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Nobel: Palladium as a Catalyst


Key Terms:


  • Synthesis: forming or building a more complex substance or compound from elements or simpler compounds.

  • Palladium: a chemical element with the chemical symbol Pd

  • Catalyst: a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without being affected by the reaction


The 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to Richard F. Heck, Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki for their development of a procedure for "palladium-catalyzed cross coupling," an organic chemistry process which enables the synthesis of large carbon-based molecules. Life on Earth is carbon-based, so carbon is seemingly everywhere, but because individual carbon atoms are so stable, it isn't always easy to hook them together. When carbon atoms are hooked together, however, new things are possible. For example, many medicines depend upon the synthesis of carbon atoms, and electronics and materials like plastics often involve carbon-based materials.

What Heck, Negishi, and Suzuki did is develop processes for using palladium atoms as a catalyst. Carbon atoms meet on a palladium atom, and then are so close together that chemical reactions are possible.


The Role of a Catalyst

In "palladium-catalyzed cross coupling," palladium acts as a catalyst. It "encourages" and "enables" a reaction between individual carbon atoms. Catalysts are used to start or facilitate all kinds of chemical reactions, from manufacturing processes to chemical reactions that occur in our own bodies.

The following science project ideas let you explore the importance of catalysts:


The Full Story

To read more about Heck, Negishi, and Suzuki's Nobel-winning work in organic chemistry, see this ScienceDaily article.


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