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Notable Nobel Prize Winners in Chemistry

stuff people on the list of Nobel Laureates in chemistry would use

(Editor’s note: Welcome to Bold’s series on the Nobel Prize, its winners, and their contributions. Read up on the notable winners in medicine here.)

a woman getting on the list of Nobel Laureates in chemistry
The list of Nobel Laureates in chemistry is full of scientists whose discoveries have shaped our modern lives.

The list of Nobel Laureates in chemistry is quite an extensive list of scientists. In fact, since these Nobel Prizes were first awarded in 1901, there have been a total of 189 recipients. Their contributions to humankind for work within fields of chemistry are all noteworthy. This is not surprising since the process to become a nominee and then selected for the award is highly scrutinized. In this regard, scientists from the U.S. have been winners of the Nobel Prize for chemistry 79 times. Germany, the United Kingdom, and France round out the top four spots. And out of all recipients, only eight have been women. Needless to say, receiving the Nobel Prize in chemistry isn’t easy, which is why it is quite the distinction.

The mandate for these awards originated with Albert Nobel, who was a Swedish chemist himself. He was also recognized as a businessman, engineer, and philanthropist. He set forth the guidelines for the Nobel Prizes in his will when he passed in 1895. Awards in chemistry, physiology/medicine, literature, physics, and peace were the original five categories with economics added in 1967. Notably absent are fields of biology and mathematics, which were not as well developed at the time. As such, many note that winners of the Nobel Prize for chemistry often spills over into these areas. Understanding this, the following list of Nobel Laureates in chemistry does not restrict awards to only those in chemistry fields. Instead, they are provided based on the impact of their contributions over time.

  • Jacobus Henricus van ‘t Hoff – Nobel Laureate in Chemistry 1901

A Dutch physical chemist, van ’t Hoff is quite deserving as the first of the winners of the Nobel prize in chemistry. He is often referred to as the founder of modern chemical thermodynamic theory. And his work dealt a great deal with osmotic shifts, equilibria, molecular kinetics, and molecular affinity. His studies also involved extensive research into chemical reactions and the impact environmental temperatures had on these reactions. Based on these efforts, he tops the list of Nobel Laureates in chemistry for osmotic pressure laws and molecular stereochemistry.

  • Marie Curie – Nobel Laureate in Chemistry 1911

As the first woman among the winners of the Nobel Prize for chemistry, Marie Curie already earned notable prestige. But at the time she joined the list of Nobel Laureates in chemistry, she had already won the award for physics in 1903. She and her husband, Pierre, received that award for identifying radioactive components of minerals. Building on her physics’ work related to radioactivity, Marie Curie successfully produced radium, a new element at the time. She similarly documented radium’s radioactive properties in the process. She is among the few that can boast having received more than one Nobel Prize.

some scientist working to win a Nobel Prize
Marie Curie was collecting those Nobel Prizes like nobody’s business.
  • Walter Norman Haworth and Paul Karrer – Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 1937

There were two winners of the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1937, and both awardees were recognized for their work related to vitamins. Walter Haworth, in addition to studies of carbohydrates and starches, determined the molecular structure of Vitamin C. This eventually led to the artificial production of the vitamin to prevent scurvy and other conditions. Paul Karrer, on the other hand, was recognized for his work involving Vitamin A. He extracted the vitamin from cod-liver oil and defined its components. Karrer also defined the structure of Vitamin B12 also. Both discoveries led to the ability to produce these vitamins artificially, which paved the way for treating vitamin deficiencies. This is why these scientists are included among the top-tier list of Nobel Laureates in chemistry.

  • Archer John Porter Martin and Richard Laurence Millington Synge – Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 1952

When it comes to chemistry lab assessments, most technicians are well familiar with various types of chromatography. Chromatography is used to identify various liquids within a mixture of substances. In essence, different liquids spread at different speeds and in different colors depending on their characteristics. The pioneers in this area, Archer Martin and Richard Synge are the winners of the Nobel Prize for chemistry we have to thank for this. It was their work here and with gases as well that placed them on the list of Nobel Laureates in chemistry in 1952. Today, chromatography is used routinely in a variety of setting ranging from lab research to healthcare.

  • Gerhard Herzberg – Nobel Laureate in Chemistry 1971

In modern times, many have heard about free radicals and the potential impact they have on aging and inflammation. Interestingly, we have Gerhard Herzberg to thank for that. Herzberg was able to identify free radical particles as byproducts during chemical reactions. He also examined how they recombined with molecules or were “scavenged.” In essence, he used quantum mechanics calculations applied to light spectrum absorbed by free radicals to their molecular structure. In fact, he mapped out severe free radical molecules and advanced this field of science significantly. These accomplishments are what determined he should be among the winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

winners of the Nobel Prize for chemistry in black and white
Winners of the Nobel Prize for chemistry may not be household names, but their contributions to the world are immeasurable.
  • Paul J. Crutzen, Mario J. Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland – Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 1995

Though reports of climate change and erosion of the ozone layer seems old news, that wasn’t the case in the early 1970s. However, Paul Crutzen, Mario Molina, and Sherwood Rowland, winners of the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1995, put forth theories that changed that. Crutzen showed how nitric oxide reacted with the ozone layer to cause its thinning. He theorized this was the mechanism by which industrial emissions caused ozone damage. Mario Molina and Sherwood Rowland on the other hand showed how freons also damaged the ozone layer of the atmosphere. Present in propellants and aerosols, they believed reducing freon use would be beneficial. Each of the discoveries have subsequently guided climate change policies. (Here’s a list of ten bold companies tackling climate change, courtesy of Bold Business.)

  • John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino – Nobel Laureates in Chemistry 2019

With the rise in smartphones and electric cars, the importance of lithium-ion batteries are well apparent. It’s therefore not surprising that those involved in its development are also on the list of Nobel Laureates in chemistry. John Goodenough’s work involved the use of a cobalt oxide cathode, which allowed housing of lithium ions. Stanley Whittingham did similar work but used titanium disulphide as a cathode to store lithium ions. And Akira Yoshino developed the first commercial lithium-ion battery using an anode of petroleum coke. Each of these remarkable scientists were chosen as winners of the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2019 for these achievements.


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