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NSF congratulates laureates of the 2022 Nobel Prize in chemistry

Three scientists shared the prize for developing "click chemistry" — a functional type of chemistry based on molecular building blocks that snap together — and bioorthogonal chemistry, which uses click chemistry within the cells of living organisms.
October 5, 2022

The U.S. National Science Foundation congratulates Carolyn Bertozzi, Morten Meldal and K. Barry Sharpless on their 2022 Nobel Prize in chemistry. Their breakthrough discoveries transformed the field by enabling new ways to create complex molecules more quickly and efficiently, even within the cells of living organisms. Their fundamental research provided the groundwork for new applications in multiple areas such as the development of new drugs and medical therapies and more targeted cancer treatments. 

In the early 2000s, Sharpless and Meldal independently developed "click chemistry" — a term coined by Sharpless that describes functional molecular building blocks that snap together efficiently. Bertozzi later expanded on click chemistry so it could be used inside living cells without harming them. She called the "clickable" reactions that she discovered "bioorthogonal" because they don't interfere with the cell's normal chemistry. They can also reveal detailed information about how cells function. 

NSF has supported the research work of both Bertozzi and Sharpless. Bertozzi has received three awards from NSF, including a CAREER award — which supports early career researchers — in 1997 and a 2020 award supporting the development of new biomanufacturing methods to assemble chemicals within cells by leveraging her discoveries in bioorthogonal chemistry. 

Sharpless has been supported by NSF over several decades and has received multiple awards. NSF supported his 2022 Nobel Prize-winning discoveries that created click chemistry and his 2001 Nobel Prize-winning work on a process that controls the handedness, or asymmetrical orientation, of molecules created during an oxidation reaction.  

"The researchers and their discoveries honored today brilliantly illustrate how science and engineering create valuable and life-changing impacts," says NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. "NSF is proud to have supported their work and we continue to invest in transformative research that utilizes discoveries in ways that can enhance health, strengthen our economy and create greater opportunities for all." 

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