New strategies for catalysts

March 01, 2016

Benjamin List receives the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize for his work in the field of Organocatalysis. His research group searches for new reactions and develops new concepts for metalfree catalysis. This research aims at inventing strategies for the development of “perfect chemical reactions” that combine quantitative yield and high atom economy, without requiring toxic solvents, protecting groups, heating, cooling, or inert gas atmosphere. This ultimate goal is approached by using small organic molecules as selective catalysts.

Benjamin List

In recent years it has been demonstrated that such organocatalysts can be as efficient and selective as the more commonly used metal-based catalysts, which has resulted in an “explosive” research activity in this new and exciting area of Organocatalysis.

Walter Thiel, Managing Director at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, congratulated Benjamin List cordially: “This is very good news for the Institute, and we all share Ben's happiness.” He is already the fourth Leibniz award winner at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung. Before him Manfred T. Reetz, Alois Fürstner, and Ferdi Schüth received the prize.

The Max Planck Institut für Kohlenforschung was founded in 1912, making it one of the Max Planck Society's oldest institutes. The Institute's activities are cantered on research into energy- and resource-saving chemical reactions, with the focus on catalysis in all of its aspects.

Organic catalysts are normally less toxic than standard metal catalysts and also easily recoverable, so they make an important contribution to more sustainable and resource-efficient chemistry. According to the DFG's press release, Benjamin List is honoured as a highly innovative and globally respected chemist who has established an entirely new field of catalysis and catalysis research. List discovered the proline-catalysed intermolecular aldol reaction as a young assistant professor. It was one of the foundations of organocatalysis, which for the first time allowed natural substances, rather than metals, to be used as catalysts in the manufacture of chemical products and other industrial key technologies. Organic catalysts are normally less toxic than standard metal catalysts and also easily recoverable, so they make an important contribution to more sustainable and resource-efficient chemistry.

Along with Benjamin List, two further Max Planck scientists were awarded with the Leibniz Prize: Emmanuelle Charpentier from the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, and Marina Rodnina from the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen.

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