nobel prize_SS_53135455_100913
October 9, 2013

Chemistry Nobel Prize Goes To Trio Of Computer Chemists

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

The days of using ball-and-stick models or dusty chalkboard equations have long been over for chemists. Instead, many scientists use complex computer models powered by state-of-the-art processors to work out today’s chemical equations.

In recognition of these high-tech models, the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to three researchers behind the creation of these complex computer simulations: Martin Karplus of Harvard and the University of Strasbourg in France, Michael Levitt of Stanford and Arieh Warshel of the University of Southern California.

As part of the Nobel Prize tradition, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences called the scientists as they were making the official announcement on Wednesday.

Warshel said he was "extremely happy" to have been woken up in the middle of the night at his Los Angeles home to discover he had won the prize.

While previous computer programs were based on either classical Newtownian physics or quantum physics, the three laureates developed models that "opened a gate between these two worlds,” the academy said.

The results of the scientists’ efforts are computer programs that are simple to use but also extremely accurate. They also eliminate the need for some lab and animal testing.

"In short, what we developed is a way which requires computers to look, to take the structure of the protein and then to eventually understand how exactly it does what it does," Warshel said.

The academy noted in its presentation that the computer models developed by the laureates can be used to study all types of chemical reactions. "Scientists can optimize solar cells, catalysts in motor vehicles or even drugs, to take but a few examples," the academy said.

As part of a joint effort in the 1970s, Karplus and Warshel developed a computer program that brought together the two physical models. Warshel later collaborated with Levitt at the Weizeman institute in Rehovot, Israel, and at the University of Cambridge in Britain, to create a program that could be used to examine the interactions of enzymes.

Marinda Li Wu, president of the American Chemical Society, told CBS News that she was happy the academy recognized a unique partnership. "I think it's fabulous," she said in a telephone interview. "They're talking about the partnering of theoreticians with experimentalists, and how this has led to greater understanding."

"We're starting as scientists to better understand things like how pharmaceutical drugs interact with proteins in our body to treat diseases,” she added. “This is very, very exciting."

The three scientists are expected to split the $1.2 million prize that comes with the award.

On Tuesday, two scientists behind the theoretical model describing the Higgs boson were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2013. Many in the scientific community saw this award as recognition of the actual discovery of the so-called ‘God particle’ last year at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

On Monday, three scientists at American universities were awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work describing the cellular machinery behind the transport and secretion of proteins in the body’s cells.

Over the coming days, the annual awards will be given out for literature, peace and economics.