Three chemists, including a Harvard University emeritus professor, have been awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for research that laid the groundwork for computer programs that are today used by every pharmaceutical company trying to develop drugs.
The three scientists who will share the 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry are Martin Karplus of Harvard, Michael Levitt of Stanford University, and Arieh Warshel of the University of Southern California. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement that they found a way to model the behavior of molecules by integrating two kinds of physics, work that has transformed a field of science.
“Today the computer is just as important a tool for chemists as the test tube,” the statement said. “Simulations are so realistic that they predict the outcome of traditional experiments.”
The work began in Karplus’ laboratory at Harvard in the 1970s, where he built computer programs that used quantum physics to describe the behavior of molecules. Quantum physics is necessary to understand the behavior of matter at a very small scale.
“The winners have laid the groundwork for linking classic experimental science with theoretical science through computer models to simulate how chemicals interact with each other. The resulting insights are helping us develop new medicines; for example, their work is being used to determine how a drug could interact with a protein in the body to treat disease,” Marinda Li Wu, president of the American Chemical Society , said in a statement.