June 16, 2022
Barry Sharpless awarded Royal Society of Chemistry’s Sir Derek Barton Gold Medal

Courtesy of the Royal Society of Chemistry

The award, named for the British Nobel laureate chemist Sir Derek Barton (1918-1998), is made every two years by the Royal Society in recognition of innovative research in organic chemistry by a chemist at least 60 years old. This year the award honors Sharpless, 81, for his pioneering work in “click chemistry.”

Click chemistry, first described in 2001, is a set of methods for constructing chemical compounds via irreversible, highly efficient reactions between smaller molecules—“click” refers to the LEGO™-like ease of fitting these modular elements together. The click chemistry approach is now almost ubiquitous in drug development, biological research, and other research and industrial settings using chemistry.

“It is indeed a great honor to receive this award named for my career-long scientific role model and mentor, Sir Derek Barton,” Sharpless said.

Sharpless notes that Barton was an influencer and cheerleader of his career from early on. Sharpless initially made his name in chemistry in the 1980s for innovations in asymmetric (“chiral”) catalysis—a particularly challenging approach to molecule-building that has proved very useful especially in drug development. Barton specifically encouraged Sharpless to keep looking for such reactions, and indeed the younger chemist was able to make further landmark discoveries in this field. On the strength of those successes, Sharpless among other honors was selected by Barton in 1997 to deliver the inaugural Barton lecture at Texas A&M where Barton finished his career. Ultimately, Sharpless was awarded a share of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his chiral catalysis work.

By the late 1990s, Sharpless was moving in a new direction, and in 2001 he and his Scripps Research colleagues Hartmuth Kolb and M.G. Finn published their initial manifesto on click chemistry and its utility, in the influential journal Angewandte Chemie. Sharpless and his laboratory since then have continued to discover click-chemistry reactions, most recently an amine-to-azide reaction published in Nature in 2019.

"From his work creating the first chiral catalysts, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2001, to his development of click chemistry, Barry has had an enormous impact on chemistry throughout his career,” says President and CEO Peter Schultz, PhD.

The Sir Derek Barton Gold Medal award includes the medal, a gift of £3,000, and an award dinner in London.

Story Source: SCRIPPS RESEARCH INSTITUTE. “Scripps Research chemist K. Barry Sharpless awarded Royal Society of Chemistry’s Sir Derek Barton Gold Medal”.
Note: Content may be edited for style and length.