6 October 2022

University of Copenhagen professor wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Nobel Prize

Professor Morten Meldal, of the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Chemistry, has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his groundbreaking work with what is known as click chemistry – when a chemical reaction makes it possible to "snap" molecules together in simple ways. The method is an extraordinarily useful tool, particularly in pharmaceutical research.

Vinder af Nobelprisen i kemi, Morten Meldal.
Nobel Prize winner, Morten Meldal. Photo: Nils Meilvang.

It transpired so quickly this Wednesday as Professor Morten Meldal found out that he had received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Within hours of the Nobel Prize Committee’s phone call, he was standing before both the Danish and international press in the H.C. Ørsted Building.

"I'm still shocked and only now called my wife about twenty minutes ago, because my phone has been ringing off the hook since the news unfolded. This is an enormous honour. It's not every day that a Dane receives a Nobel Prize, so this is a huge deal”, he said to the journalists during Wednesday's press conference. One of them asked: what went through your mind when you received the call?

"Well, I thought to myself: is this really true? In a revue we performed two years ago, we pretended that I was called up by the Nobel Prize Committee. So, for a moment, I thought it was just another prank call", he replied with a smile.

Morten Meldal has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry alongside American researchers Barry Sharpless and Carolyn Bertozzi. He is the 10th University of Copenhagen researcher, and the first in 38 years, as well as the first Dane in 25 years to receive a Nobel Prize and joins other prominent such as August Krogh and Niels Bohr. 

Professor Meldal has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his groundbreaking work on what’s known as 'click chemistry', a chemical reaction that has made it possible to 'glue' molecules together. The method is a very useful tool, particularly in the field of pharmaceuticals research.

Simple and useful tool

The Nobel Committee highlights the simplicity and great usefulness of the research as a reason for the nomination.
“This year’s Prize in Chemistry deals with not overcomplicating matters, instead working with what is easy and simple. Functional molecules can be built even by taking a straightforward route,” says Johan Åqvist, Chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

Morten Meldal
Photo: Nils Meilvang.



Shares the prize with American researchers

Together with Barry Sharpless, Morten Meldal was awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering the chemical reaction that "laid the foundation for a functional form of chemistry – click chemistry".

The third recipient, Carolyn Bertozzi, receives the award for taking “click chemistry to a new level”, and among other things “mapping biomolecules on the surfaces of cells”.'

Photo: Nils Meilvang.


Assembling molecular building blocks

Click chemistry, or the click reaction, is a chemical reaction in which certain molecular groups, each carrying one part of a particular bond in the surface, are snapped together. Imagine two Lego bricks, one of which has a rise and the other a recess – which can click together and bind the molecules upon which they reside to a new constellation.

This allows molecular "building blocks" to be assembled relatively simply into advanced and useful molecules for a multitude of functions, especially in pharmaceutical research.

Since its discovery, the reaction has been widely deployed as a quick and efficient chemical tool. Examples of its usefulness range from everyday things, like paint that binds better to a surface, to better pharmaceuticals and new forms of treatment, e.g., in the purification of insulin and development of new cancer drugs.  

Photo: Nils Meilvang.


Michael Skov Jensen
Press officer
Faculty of SCIENCE
University of Copenhagen
+45 93 56 58 97