Three Scottish scientists win Nobel Prizes

Michael Kosterlitz, David Thouless and Fraser Stoddart

Professor Fraser Stoddart, a graduate of The University of Edinburgh, was on Wednesday awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Stoddart’s award came a day after two other Scottish scientists — Bearsden-born David Thouless and Aberdeen-born Michael Kosterlitz — won the Nobel Prize in Physics.

All three Scottish-born Nobel Prize winners work at universities in the United States.

The 2016 chemistry prize was awarded jointly to Edinburgh-born Stoddart, Jean-Pierre Sauvage of France and Bernard Feringa of the Netherlands “for the design and synthesis of molecular machines.”

Goran Hansson, a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, told Reuters this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry was “all about the world’s tiniest machines.”

Molecular machines may eventually be injected to fight cancer or used to make new types of materials.

Stoddart, who works at Northwestern University near Chicago told Reuters the prize was “quite unexpected” and that “when it happens, it takes your breath away.”

A telephone interview with Stoddard carried out by Adam Smith, chief scientific officer at Nobel Media, can be heard here.

Asked to predict what the work in molecular machines could eventually be used for, Feringa said: “There are endless opportunities …  think of a tiny micro-robot that a doctor in the future will inject into your blood and that goes to search for a cancer cell or goes to deliver a drug, for instance.”

Stoddart, currently of Northwestern University in Illinois, received his BSc from Edinburgh in 1964 and a PhD from the university two years later.

He was also awarded a DSc degree by Edinburgh in 1980 for his research into stereochemistry beyond the molecule.

Stoddart was named Edinburgh’s Alumnus of the Year in 2005 and knighted in 2006.

The university said Stoddart is one of the few chemists of the past 25 years to have created a new field of organic chemistry.

Professor Timothy O’Shea, principal of the University of Edinburgh, said: “We are delighted at the news of this Nobel Prize award and congratulate Professor Fraser Stoddart on his achievement.

“The University of Edinburgh can be justifiably proud that he has built upon his education at this University to reach the top of his profession.

“His enthusiasm to communicate his subject beyond the academic community has inspired future generations to consider the amazing possibilities of scientific research.

“We have maintained a warm relationship with Fraser over the years and he, in turn, retains an obvious affection for his home city and this university – only in April he visited our School of Chemistry to present the Fraser and Norma Stoddart PhD Prize, which recognises excellence in research.

“For someone who has given so much to others throughout his career, we are thrilled that his work is being celebrated at the highest level.”

Thouless, of the University of Washington, Seattle, and Kosterlitz of Brown University in Rhode Island won the physics Nobel Prize along with Duncan Haldane of Princeton University, New Jersey “for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter.”

“This year’s Laureates opened the door on an unknown world where matter can assume strange states,” said the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

“They have used advanced mathematical methods to study unusual phases, or states, of matter, such as superconductors, superfluids or thin magnetic films.

“Thanks to their pioneering work, the hunt is now on for new and exotic phases of matter.

“Many people are hopeful of future applications in both materials science and electronics.”