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Two winners of 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry have MIT roots

K. Barry Sharpless is a former member of the chemistry faculty, while Carolyn Bertozzi is the daughter of Physics Professor Emeritus William Bertozzi and a Lemelson-MIT Prize winner.
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Side-by-side headshots of K. Barry Sharpless and Carolyn Bertozzi
New Nobel laureates K. Barry Sharpless and Carolyn Bertozzi share MIT roots.
Photos courtesy of Scripps and Stanford University

Two scientists with MIT connections have been awarded a share of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

In an announcement made yesterday in Stockholm, Sweden, Carolyn R. Bertozzi of Stanford University, Morten Meldal of the University of Copenhagen, and K. Barry Sharpless of the Scripps Research Institute were awarded the prize "for the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry." Both Bertozzi and Sharpless share roots at MIT and the greater Boston area.

Sharpless, who became just the 5th person to ever win a second Nobel Prize, began his independent career at MIT, and was a member of the Department of Chemistry faculty from 1970 to 1977. After moving to his doctoral alma mater, Stanford University, for three years, he returned to the MIT faculty from 1980 to 1990 before trekking west again, this time to Scripps, where he has remained the W.M. Keck Professor of Chemistry ever since.

Krishna Komanduri ’87, a former undergraduate student of Sharpless’ at MIT who is now physician-in-chief at the University of California at San Francisco Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, tweeted yesterday that Sharpless was “an outstanding and funny teacher. … People used to compile lists of ‘Sharplessisms’, like ‘Iodine oribtals are soft and squishy.’”

Sharpless was awarded his first Nobel Prize in 2001, “for his work on chirally catalyzed oxidation reactions.”

Bertozzi, the 8th woman to win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, and spent time on the MIT campus as the daughter of Department of Physics Professor Emeritus William Bertozzi. Yesterday, the younger Bertozzi revealed that her father was her first call upon learning that she had been named a Nobel laureate.

“He understands the gravity of a Nobel Prize and what that means,” she explained in an interview with WBUR. “And he was just so overjoyed, just bursting with pride. And I'm so happy that he is still with us [and] that he could enjoy this moment with me.”

Bertozzi boasts another MIT connection: She was the first woman to win the prestigious Lemelson-MIT Prize, in 2010. Bertozzi graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University, earned her PhD at the University of California at Berkeley, and joined their faculty in 1996. She remained there until 2015, when she joined the faculty at Stanford, where she is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and a professor of chemical and systems biology and of radiology.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded 114 times to 191 Nobel Prize laureates between 1901 and 2022. Sharpless now shares the distinction of having won the Prize in Chemistry twice with one other laureate, Frederick Sanger, who won in 1958 and 1980. The prizes will be awarded in Stockholm, on Dec. 10.

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The Boston Globe

Prof. Laura Kiessling speaks with Ryan Cross and Emily Sweeney at The Boston Globe about the work of Stanford professor Carolyn R. Bertozzi, daughter of  MIT professor emeritus William Bertozzi, who won this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Bertozzi’s work “changes the way people think about doing science. There have been further advances, but they all build on her work,” says Kiessling.

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