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UCLA Professor Shares Nobel Prize in Chemistry

October 14, 1987|Associated Press

STOCKHOLM — Two Americans, UCLA Prof. Donald J. Cram and retired DuPont chemist Charles J. Pedersen, shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry today with a French researcher for their work in molecular research, while a West German and a Swiss scientist were awarded the prize in physics for their discoveries in the field of superconductivity.

Cram and Pedersen shared the prize with Frenchman Jean-Marie Lehn. The physics prize went to Georg Bednorz of West Germany and K. Alex Mueller of Switzerland for discovery of new superconducting materials that may point the way to faster computers and bullet trains.

"It really shakes me up," Cram, 68, said in Los Angeles. "What I'm delighted about is that the two people with whom I'm sharing it are very fine people."

'Not Easy to Explain'

"I've never had an experience like this," said Pedersen, 83, at his home in Salem, N.J. "It is a great honor."

His work is "not so easy to explain to a non-chemist," he said, but added it was safe to say the process "can do all sorts of things."

"It's a great day for me," a smiling Mueller, 60, told reporters in Naples, Italy, where he was participating in a physics symposium. He called Bednorz, 37, a "valuable young man, and half the credit for the research must go to him."

The chemistry research by Cram, Pedersen and Lehn could be used to separate radioactive tissues from other tissues and for the purification of molecules, and may have future application in energy production.

It is the fifth year in a row one American or more has won or shared the chemistry prize.

In announcing the chemistry prize, the Swedish Academy of Sciences cited the work by Cram, Pedersen and Lehn in making relatively uncomplicated compounds that perform the same functions as natural proteins.

"Great progress toward this goal has been made over the last 20 years, and it is the pioneering achievements in this particular area that are now being recognized," said the announcement by the awards committee.

The committee said their work laid the foundation for an area of research that has become known as "host-guest chemistry" or "supramolecular chemistry."

"At the basis of many biological processes lies the ability of molecules to recognize each other and to form well-defined complexes," the announcement said. The binding is very specific, and the molecules must fit like a key and a lock, the committee said.

Two works published by Pedersen in 1967 became classics in the field, while Lehn and Cram later built on his studies, the announcement said.

Bednorz and Mueller, winners of the physics prize, are researchers at the IBM Zurich Research Laboratory in Switzerland.

The announcement by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited "their important breakthrough in the discovery of superconductivity in ceramic materials."

Last year, "Bednorz and Mueller reported finding superconductivity in an oxide material at a temperature of (22 degrees Fahrenheit), higher than previously known," the announcement said.

Scientists had been trying to raise that temperature for more than a decade in an attempt to make wider use of superconductivity, which is the ability of some materials to conduct electricity without losing current to resistance.

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