Sir J. Fraser Stoddart’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in the Stockholm City Hall, 10 December 2016.
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Nobel Laureates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I draw pleasure, along with Ben Feringa and Jean-Pierre Sauvage, in joining the roster of chemists, recognized for over a century for their ingenuity and creativity by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. What an honor it is for us to be chosen to share their company!
I draw pleasure, together with my Dutch and French co-laureates, from having been selected to receive this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for the design and synthesis of molecular machines.” Whereas Dr Feringa has manipulated parts of molecules around carbon-carbon double bonds to create unidirectional rotary motors, Dr Sauvage and I have introduced a new bond into chemistry leading to compounds composed of mechanically interlocked molecules in which the relative movements of their components can be controlled to produce linear motors. Chemistry welcomes into its fold thousands of new compounds every day: it’s only once in a blue moon that a new bond, which constitutes a game-changer, enters the chemical domain. The mechanical bond is such a bond.
I draw pleasure from the knowledge that, although it has taken us more than half a century, we have come within an ace of that “very very small world” conjured up by Richard Feynman in his visionary 1959 talk entitled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” A world where, as Feynman speculated, we have new kinds of forces, new kinds of effects and new kinds of possibilities. He concluded, “The problems of manufacture and reproduction of materials will be very different.” He was right. They are very different down at the nanometer level. The physics associated with molecular machines is taking chemists into previously uncharted territories where non-equilibrium dynamics dominate their performance.
I draw pleasure from recording our heartfelt thanks to the hundreds of colleagues and students, drawn from more than 30 different countries, who have shared in our experiences during journeys that have taken us for appreciable lengths of time to at least a dozen universities and two multinational companies on three of the five continents on the globe. Our chemistry has been conducted without prejudice and has recognized no borders. Science is global and there’s no going back, even in the face of the uncertain future that pervades some of the Western world’s major democracies today.
In the middle of one of his most memorable tales, Scottish poet Robert Burns breaks out of Scots into King’s English to remind us –
But pleasures are like poppies spread –
You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river –
A moment white, then melts for ever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.
Burns may be right: the extraordinary pleasure of experiencing this memorable evening, as well as the events leading up to it, may conceivably fade with time, yet the unique force that is instrumental in defining this wonderful celebration of human achievement presided over every year by the Nobel Foundation, and supported ardently by the Royal Family and the Swedish people, will continue to resonate in every corner of our planet, leaving all men and women on this earth with the chance to draw enormous pleasure from the unity of our shared values that bring untold benefits to humankind.
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