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Nobel Laureate Chemistry 2016: Bernard L. Feringa

Bernard L. Feringa is pioneer in the field of molecular engines and he strives to inspire his students, stimulate their creativity and help them appreciate the beauty of nature. When Nobel Laureate in chemistry Dr. Bernard L. (Ben) Feringa’s colleagues at the Netherlands’ University of Groningen heard the news of his award, they erupted in cheers and applause. Later some people presented him with gifts, including a toy Ferrari, a nod to Feringa’s successful creation of a molecular car. Feringa is one of three chemists—including American Sir. J. Fraser Stoddart and Frenchman Dr. Jean-Pierre Sauvage—honored this year by the Nobel Committee for their work designing and producing molecular “machines.”  The chemists “developed molecules with controllable movements, which can perform a task when energy is added,” according to the Nobel Committee and are part of what Feringa calls “the supramolecular and molecular machines’ community.” An ambassador for science Feringa was recognized for being the first person to develop a molecular motor. In 1999, he created a molecular rotor blade that could spin continually in the same direction while under the influence of light and heat. “Using molecular motors, he has rotated a glass cylinder that is 10,000 times bigger than the motor” according to the Nobel Committee. The molecular car, or nanocar, he created consisted of a molecular chassis held together with four motors that functioned as wheels. As for his reaction to news of his award, Feringa said, “It took me by surprise. Initially, I did not know what to say, but my next remark was that I was deeply honored.”  Suddenly he is being recognized by people on the streets and on trains and juggling numerous speaking invitations. “My experience has been that people are proud that a Dutch scientist is a Nobel laureate.”  He also is happy to serve as an ambassador for science. “I consider it extremely important to inform the public about the value of scientific inquiry,” explained Feringa. “This is more important than ever these days as even in politics, you hear alarming messages such as ‘science is also only an opinion.’ There is a clear task for outreach by scientists these days.” Smart drugs Feringa began working on molecular switches and motors about 30 years ago. “The initial molecule that formed a basis for the later switches and motors I designed [was created] exactly 40 years ago while working on my Ph.D. thesis,” he said. Currently he is the leader of the Ben Feringa Research Group at the Stratingh Institute for Chemistry at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, where he has taught since 1988. The group’s research focuses on synthetic and physical organic chemistry, with a goal of using the full potential of synthetic chemistry to “create new structures and functions,” according to the group’s website. “We are currently heavily involved in designing respo
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