The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2001     

What is catalytic asymmetric synthesis?

R refers to the Latin word rectus, meaning right.
S refers to the Latin word sinister, meaning left.

When alanine is produced in a laboratory under normal conditions, a mixture is obtained, half of which consists of (R)-alanine and half of (S)-alanine.

In an asymmetric synthesis an excess of one of these forms is produced. To achieve this, in a catalytic way - that is, with the aid of a molecule that speeds up the reaction without being consumed itself - is what this year's Nobel Laureate's have accomplished.

Since the cells' actors are chiral, many pharmaceutical drugs also have to be chiral. Thus a flourishing pharmaceutical industry has grown up in the wake of the Laureates' achievements.

Based on materials from the 2001 Nobel Poster for Chemistry.
Web Adapted Version of the Nobel Poster from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

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