Alan Heeger’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 2000
Your Majesties, Nobel Laureates, Members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Alan MacDiarmid, Hideki Shirakawa and I are greatly honored to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for “the discovery and development of conducting polymers”. We would like to dedicate these few comments to the memory of Professor Bengt Rånby, known for many years in Sweden as “Mr. Polymer”.
Polymer science has been recognized three times previously by the Nobel Prize in Chemistry:
• Hermann Staudinger in 1953, “for his discoveries in the field of macromolecular chemistry”.
• Karl Ziegler and Giulio Natta, in 1963 “for their discoveries in the field of the chemistry and technology of high polymers”.
• Paul Flory, in 1974 “for his fundamental achievements, both theoretical and experimental, in the physical chemistry of macromolecules”.
Because the saturated polymers studied by Staudinger, Ziegler, Natta, and Flory are insulators, they were viewed as uninteresting from the point of view of electronic materials.
Professor Rånby, in his lecture at the Nobel Symposium in 1991, designated electrically conducting polymers as the “fourth generation of polymeric materials“. This fourth generation of polymers can exhibit semiconducting or even metallic properties.
In creating and expanding the fourth generation of polymers, we attempted to understand nature with sufficient depth that we could achieve materials with novel and unique properties; properties that are not otherwise available. This was (and is) an elegant and somewhat dangerous exercise; elegant because it required the synthesis of knowledge from chemistry, physics and materials science, and dangerous because when working on the boundary of three disciplines, one is always pushing beyond the knowledge and experience of this background. That our research in this interdisciplinary field has had sufficient impact on Chemistry to be recognized by the Nobel Prize gives us, therefore, particular satisfaction.
Their work and discoveries range from cancer therapy and laser physics to developing proteins that can solve humankind’s chemical problems. The work of the 2018 Nobel Laureates also included combating war crimes, as well as integrating innovation and climate with economic growth. Find out more.