Trio of scientists land Nobel Prize in Chemistry with micro-robot

Recipient Prof J Fraser Stoddart previously honoured for work by Trinity College Dublin

Research into the development of tiny micro-robots that can seek out and dstroy cancer has captured a Nobel Prize for three European scientists.

"This year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry is about the world's smallest machines, " said Goran Hansson, a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences which conferred the award.

The recipients, French man Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Scotland’s J Fraser Stoddart and Dutchman Bernard Feringa developed molecular machines measuring just a thousandth the width of a human hair.

Prof Stoddart received a previous honour in Ireland in 2009 when he was conferred with an honorary degree from Trinity College Dublin for his work. He is professor of chemistry at Northwestern University in the US.


The technology offered “endless opportunities”, said Prof Feringa who is professor of organic chemistry at the University of Groningen. He likened their molecular machines to tiny robots that could circulate in a person’s bloodstream to search for cancer cells or to deliver a drug with pinpoint accuracy.

Rendered speechless

Prof Sauvage is professor emeritus at the University of Strasbourg and director of research emeritus at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research. The three will share the distinction and also the €816,326 award that comes with it.

“When it happens, it takes your breath away,” said Prof Stoddart in a phone interview. Prof Feringa, when told of the award, acknowledged he did not know what to say about the distinction.

The academy was lavish in its praise for the work which has enormous potential. It likened these minute molecular motors to the discovery of the electric motor in the 1830s. Back then they used motors to display spinning cranks and wheels, but there was no realisation of how the electric motor would later be used in trains, fans and food processors.

The prizes are named after Swedish scientist and inventor Alfred Nobel and have been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature and peace.

Additional reporting – (Reuters)

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.