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Nobel Laureate Chemistry 2016: J. Fraser Stoddart

Winning the Nobel Prize in chemistry generates a flood of phone calls, emails and invitations, which really was not a surprise to Sir. Fraser Stoddart, PhD, one of a trio of chemists who took the 2016 honors. What Stoddart did find most surprising and gratifying was among all the well-wishes were hundreds of emails and notes from his former students and teaching assistants, not just congratulating him for well-deserved recognition, but also thanking him for his impact on their careers and personal lives. Stoddart keeps in contact with many former students and thinks of them so fondly that he invited more than 80 of them and their significant others to join him and his family at the awards’ festivities in Stockholm. “I rented a conference room and threw a big party,” Stoddart said of his time in Stockholm, adding that trimming the guest list was a bit tricky. “There are hundreds of them [former students] and I never forget the experience of working with them—sometimes I spend two-to five years working with them. It is quite a wrench when the day comes for them to leave.” A change of lifestyle Stoddart has spent almost half a century on his loves, research and teaching. Currently a professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, in the U.S., some colleagues and staff members thought he was deserving of recognition from the Nobel committee for his work on mechanical bonds in molecular compounds (after all, 10 years ago he was knighted by the Queen of England). The university’s press office asked Stoddart in October to update his official biography just in case, but he said he didn’t see the need. Then the phone call came from Stockholm. “It’s very exciting, very daunting, very demanding... it comes with a lot of surprises,” Stoddart said of the award. “I’m looking at what comes up next. I’m going to China at the drop of a hat to give a speech and have dinner with the prime minister. It changes your lifestyle in a dramatic way.” A new field of organic chemistry Stoddart’s breakthrough came in 1981 while he was working at Imperial Chemical Industries in the UK.  He is one of a small number of chemists over the past 25 years to have created a new field of organic chemistry — one in which the mechanical bond is a primary feature of molecular compounds, according to Northwestern. “It’s the invention of a new bond that I think is very important,” Stoddart noted. “There are probably thousands of new chemical compounds made every day; not so for new bonds in chemistry; they are few and far between. We have been able to make mechanical interlocking molecules quickly and easily. It means that we can start to look at machine-and motor-like properties.” Stoddart has been working on these bonds since 1989. The two other Nobel Prize winners in chemistry, Jean-Pierre Sauvage of France and Bernard Feringa of the Netherlands, also work in that field. Stoddart and Sauvage learned of each othe
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