Nobel laureates in Chemistry

Jean Marie Lehn

Nobel Prize 1987

Born: 30 September 1939, Rosheim, France

Affiliation at the time of the award: Université Louis Pasteur, Strasbourg, France, Collège de France, Paris, France

Prize motivation: "for their development and use of molecules with structure-specific interactions of high selectivity"

Field: organic chemistry, supramolecular chemistry


Chemical reactions often occur through the influence of molecules that have cavities and pockets where other atoms and molecules can be attached to then join with other molecules. After Charles Pedersen discovered crown ethers, molecules that can capture certain metallic atoms, Jean-Marie Lehn found related molecules in 1969 that he called cryptands. They can capture certain types of molecules, making it possible to create chemical compounds through chemical reactions that have a significant impact on biological processes.

Martin Karplus

Nobel Prize 2013

Born: 15 March 1930, Vienna, Austria

Affiliation at the time of the award: Université de Strasbourg (Strasbourg, France), Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, USA)

Prize motivation: "for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems"

Field: biochemistry, physical chemistry, theoretical chemistry


Martin Karplus was born in Vienna, Austria. His family fled to the U.S. prior to the German occupation in 1938. After studying at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the United States, he moved to the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, where he received his Ph.D. in 1953. He worked at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, at Columbia University in New York, and later at Harvard University from 1967. He is also associated with the University of Strasbourg, France. Martin Karplus is married with three children.


The world around us is made up of atoms that are joined together to form molecules. During chemical reactions atoms change places and new molecules are formed. To accurately predict the course of the reactions at the sites where the reaction occurs advanced calculations based on quantum mechanics are required. For other parts of the molecules, it is possible to use the less complicated calculations of classical mechanics. In the 1970s, Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt, and Arieh Warshel successfully developed methods that combined quantum and classical mechanics to calculate the courses of chemical reactions using computers.

Jean-Pierre Sauvage

Nobel Prize 2016

Born: 21 October 1944, Paris, France

Affiliation at the time of the award: University of Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France

Prize motivation: "for the design and synthesis of molecular machines"

Field: Molecular Machine, supramolecular chemistry



Jean-Pierre Sauvage was born in Paris, France. He received his doctoral degree at the Université Louis-Pasteur in Strasbourg in 1971. The future Nobel Laureate Jean-Marie Lehn was his advisor. He has worked at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique, CNRS, and is a professor at the Université de Strasbourg.


We can imagine that the components of the smallest machines could be molecules. For a machine to function, its parts must be able to move relative to each other. In 1983, Jean-Pierre Sauvage managed to achieve this by connecting two ring-shaped molecules into what is called a "catenane". Unlike ordinary chemical bonds, the molecules in catenanes are linked like a chain, where the links can move relative to each other. In the future, molecular machines could be used for new materials, sensors, and energy storage systems.



Past University of Strasbourg chemistry faculty or alumni include Louis Pasteur, Emil Fischer (Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1902), Adolf von Baeyer (Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1905), Hermann Staudinger (Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1953), Marguerite Perey (discovered Francium) and John Osborn.