Ryoji Noyori

Asymmetric Catalysis

Monday, 26 June 2006
09:30 - 10:00 CEST


Molecular chirality normally emerges when a carbon atom possesses four different atoms or groups. Then, right-handed and left-handed stereoisomers (R and S), called enantiomers, become possible. Their subtle differences become distinct when the enantiomers are involved in biological or physiological phenomena, particularly in the administration of synthetic drugs. In fact, gaining practical access to enantiomerically pure compounds is among the most significant challenges in the development of pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, flavors, and fragrances. However, selective chemical synthesis of enantiomeric molecules, called asymmetric synthesis, remained extremely difficult for a long period of time. Our method makes use of a chiral molecular catalyst consisting of a metallic element and an attached chiral ligand(s). The active metal center generates catalytic reactivity, accelerating the reaction repeatedly, while the attending R or S ligand controls stereoselectivity in the absolute sense.

We have focused on asymmetric hydrogenation, a core technology in chemical synthesis. Recent advances in asymmetric catalysis have dramatically changed the procedures used for chemical synthesis. This approach has resulted in an impressive progression of synthetic reactions to a level that technically approximates or sometimes even exceeds that of natural biological processes. The growth of this fundamental technology has given rise to enormous economic potential in the manufacture of precious chemicals possessing a high degree of structural precision.

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