Tuesday, September 16, 2014 Headlines & Global News

3 Researchers Win Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Computers

By Julie S | Oct 10, 2013 09:46 AM EDT

3 Researchers Win Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Computers
Arieh Warshel, Martin Karplus and Michael Levitt shared the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. (Photo : University of Southern California; Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard; Steve Fisch/Stanford University)

Three American researchers won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Instead of the traditional lab experiments, their molecular research was done using computer programs.

Dr. Martin Karplus, Dr. Michael Levitt, and Dr. Arieh Warshel shared the Nobel Prize award and $1.2 million cash prize for their computer-aided study which used simulations to discover movement of molecules and how chemical bonds form and break. The computer software was programmed with scientific laws of motion so they could watch quantum physics and atomic activity.

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The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm granted the chemists the Nobel Prize on Monday "for the development of multi-scale models for complex chemical systems. Chemists used to create models of molecules using plastic balls and sticks…today the modeling is carried out in computers."

In traditional lab experiments, scientists are able to expect results through the initial chemical ingredients. However, chemists are unable to tell what actually happens from the start of the experiment to its final product because the chemical reactions happen at fast rates.

Now with the help of advanced computer programs, simulations in large scales could be done. Scientists can investigate closer and study complicated chemical reactions such as combustion and photosynthesis. This computer-aided technology can even help and enable research and design for new pharmaceutical drugs.

Martin Karplus, 83, from the University of Strasbourg in France, Michael Levitt, 66, from Stanford University and Arieh Warshel, 77, from the University of Southern California collaborated on the research.

The three chemists go as far back in the 1960s.Dr. Warshel and Dr. Levitt worked together at the time to measure molecular behavior using Newton's law of physics. Dr. Karplus and Dr. Warschel on the other hand joined their researches to publish a paper on a description of the molecules' chemical behavior through classic and quantum physics.
Although computer-aided research is very helpful in computing and simulations, some scientists tend to be skeptical of the results thinking that the programs are controlled and biased. "When you do something on computer, it's very easy to dismiss it and say you made it up," Dr. Washel told New York Times.

Nobel selection Committee Chairman Sven Lidin defended the researchers in a statement, "You still have to do the experiment. But the predictions that theory make are becoming so much powerful these days that we can perhaps save 90 percent of the experimenting and concentrate on the 10 percent where we know that the most important results will lie."

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