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Go to Chemistry: On Molecules and Atoms

They mesh well. Phaedria Marie St. Hilaire and Morten P. Meldel.

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not just as husband and wife, but also as individuals employed in their own fields.

While Phaedria, who describes herself as “stubborn,” worked with women of color in Denmark and the Nordic nations using her sense of justice, Morten, who was calm and had a passion for music, was inspired by the structural beauty of organic molecules. “In my opinion, everything is just atoms and molecules joined together to form a system that receives energy from the sun and comes to life. Physics is what occurs between molecules, while chemistry is the study of molecules. They establish the foundation of existence together, he claims.

The Nobel laureate’s early years spent on the farms his family owned inspired his passion for science. The images of natural items and the geometry that surrounded them puzzled him, were ingrained in his mind as an enduring memory, and compelled him to delve more into the complex chemistry that united the elements. “Thinking about chemistry in this way has always made me happy,” he claims.

His attention was also drawn to the remarkable harmony found in the biological links. His keen curiosity and visual recall led him to the field of click chemistry, for which he and US scientists Karl Barry Sharpless and Carolyn Bertozzi shared the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

As the name suggests, Click is a molecular assembly game similar to Lego where players connect molecules to create biological conglomerates. Like in a natural chemical process, the molecules are “clicked” together in such a manner that no residues are left behind. The emerging field of chemistry has several uses in pharmaceuticals, including tailored medicinal therapies for serious illnesses and addressing climate change.

Morten’s examination of how chemicals are created by nature and how they may be duplicated in a lab demonstrates his inclusivity as he manages to unite individuals in a common space where they can collaborate. “This is the reason we are together,” Phaedria says. She established the Professional Women of Colour network in 2019 to address issues facing minorities in Europe, including women of colour, and to assist them in assimilating into the wider Danish society, which is hesitant to accept individuals from different backgrounds.

Morten, who loves music so much that he made the instruments he plays, believes that chemistry, like music, expresses the essential oneness in nature. This is also the reason he assists gifted people from many cultures in finding Danish forums where they may reach their maximum potential. “Chemistry in nature is like a symphony.” “People must adjust their music accordingly,” he said, elaborating on the idea that motivated his investigation. “While we were working on the subject independently, we made our discovery. Our research project quickly grew to provide such a groundbreaking breakthrough in science that may open up several new avenues for our investigation of various naturally occurring chemical structures, even inside the human body.

For Morten, the Nobel Prize is an opportunity to engage with decision-makers and urge them to increase funding for scientific research in organic chemistry. Phaedria views her husband’s Nobel Prize as a means of advancing her message on the indispensible need for equality. Therefore, they argue, “Laurels are just platforms to let your voice be heard; the values that go behind your work are what matter.”

Morten and Phaedria were in Thiruvananthapuram for the Global Science Festival of Kerala, which was taking place for a month at the time. Morten also gave talks to academics and students at Kerala University and IISER as part of their visit, discussing the value of an ecosystem—both internal and external—that might support in-depth scientific research.

“The research environment in India is excellent.”

Is the Nobel Prize awarded for the development of Click and bioorthogonal a testament to the revival of pure chemistry?

Yes, in fact. This scenario embodies a “return to the roots” concept. Everything pertaining to chemistry research has been supplanted by biochemistry, and institutions claiming to be doing chemistry research were really focusing on biochemical or biotechnological issues. Instead of referring to themselves as chemistry research centers, these institutions need to designate themselves biotechnology institutes.

Our team’s discoveries in this regard assisted in returning stream science to its fundamentals. These days, we are delving deeply into molecules to discover their structural patterns, manipulate them, and even go “nano.” Thus, pure chemistry, in which the molecule serves as the basis, is making a comeback.

Which category do you think your result falls into—pure chemistry or application?

Although it is fundamental, its uses are revolutionary. We discovered that molecules may be brought together to create units that can be “clicked” together with bolts after studying molecules and their structures. And this may be employed as what you can refer to as “molecular robots,” which function as controllers to correct many irregularities in biological systems—such as those found within cells and organs—that have up until now remained impenetrable. Research on its potential uses is ongoing, particularly in the treatment of diseases like cancer, for which tailored medication is essential. Though we are still a ways off, we are making progress. In other words, click integrates molecular operations with biological processes. Thus, all natural sciences and medicine may utilize it.

How was the discovery made? Was the scene altered by the goal or by something discovered along the way?

These kinds of findings are not intended. Science relies heavily on serendipity. We are unable to predict the future. We keep our eyes open, so we can see them. And that’s the most important quality a researcher need to possess. Note. and empathy to comprehend the rationale for its pursuit for the greater good. Naturally, bravery is also necessary since without it, the route shift cannot be made. In my team, they are more valuable than knowledge based on facts.

Although we each did separate tasks, our efforts complimented each other’s. In order to adapt it for use in human therapies, the copper catalyst that I used to bolt the molecules in the first click reaction was changed to a sugar-based catalyst. Thus, a certain chemistry existed between each of our unique pieces that made them “click.”

Why should aspiring scientists concentrate on pure chemistry?

The difficulties we now confront serve as markers for the areas that need attention. Combining such difficulties will aid in defining the study’s structure. Some of these problems, like the environmental one, are beyond the capabilities of the age to which I belong. However, there is a wealth of information to go further into about the solutions. Future-focused sectors including sustainable materials, textiles, energy, transportation, and food need a great deal of labor. To find them, you have to look at the most fundamental levels of chemistry, which means preparing kids to learn about chemistry via observation and an awareness of surrounding geometry. AI and other modern technologies are insufficient; a great deal of creativity and vision is required.

Excellent research is the result of an innate curiosity and the capacity to bring a variety of experiences to the necessary platform. Occasionally stepping outside of our comfort zones is also vital.

To what extent are academic institutions and research centers prepared to lead these kinds of studies?

My Nobel Prize provided me with a platform to start a dialogue with the political elite about the significance of these researchers to the global community and the consequent need for adequate funding. I discovered that India has excellent infrastructure and a conducive research atmosphere during my trips to higher education institutions like the Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER). The foundation of research is infrastructure, which is available for use by aspiring researchers. The fact that these institutes are receiving funding is encouraging as it will open the door for hard work that will bear fruit in about 20 years.

In reality, Europe might benefit from these kinds of models.

Along with K Barry Sharpless and Carolyn Bertozzi, Morten P. Meldel, a professor at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, shared the Nobel Prize for the creation of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry. Click chemistry involves joining molecular building components together. Morten created the copper-catalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition, a chemical process. This discovery’s application is regarded as groundbreaking.

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