Barry Sharpless was awarded the Nobel Prize for developing chirally catalysed oxidation reactions, and is also the originator of click chemistry.
In 1970 at M.I.T. Sharpless began looking for better tools for chemists. At Stanford in 1980 he discovered the first of three Sharpless asymmetric reactions and in 1998, after eight years at Scripps, he introduced a skeptical chemical community to click chemistry, his method for the rapid, easy-to-perform discovery of new function.
In 2001 Sharpless and M.G. Finn discovered in situ click chemistry, which, in turn, led to the discovery of CuAAC (copper-catalyzed version of the azide-acetylene cycloaddition reaction) the following year. After the Finn-led collaborative discovery of CuAAC conjugation a few months later, click chemistry took off.
A second ‘perfect’ click reaction from the Sharpless lab – SuFEx (Sulfur Fluoride Exchange) – joined CuAAC in 2014. SuFEx unexpectedly revealed an unknown galaxy of chemical connectivity that the greatest phosphate chemist – nature – has never exploited. Sharpless, who is 77, expects applications of SuFEx, interfacial studies ‘on water’, and the search for new click reactions to keep him busy for the rest of his life.
More about Barry Sharpless and the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.