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Nobel Laureate Chemistry 2016: Jean-Pierre Sauvage

As a child, Jean-Pierre Sauvage, PhD, moved often, due to his father’s career in the French army. Postings included North Africa and the U.S. Midwest. But despite the disruptions to his personal relationships and schooling, his interests in mathematics and science remained constant. That interest in science narrowed to a fascination with chemistry, and culminated in 2016 with Sauvage winning one of the three Nobel Prizes for chemistry for his work connecting molecules with mechanical bonds. The other two winning chemists, who pursued research in the same field, were Sir J. Fraser Stoddart of the U.S. and Bernard L. Feringa of the Netherlands. A good surprise Sauvage’s revelation came in 1983 when he was able to create a chain called a catenane, by connecting two ring-shaped molecules together. Molecules usually join in covalent bonds in which the atoms share electrons, but in the chain created by Sauvage they were attached by a “free mechanical bond,” according to the Nobel Prize committee. “It was a surprise, I did not expect it at all; of course it was a good surprise,” Sauvage said, in remembering when he heard the news of his award. “I was in my office on October 5, preparing myself to look at the Nobel website to see who the winners were. Then half an hour before the official announcement, I picked up the phone. I was not sure at first it was serious.” The next few months were a whirlwind, culminating with the festivities in Stockholm in December, where he was joined by his family. “It was fantastic; like being on a small cloud,” noted Sauvage. “My impression is that it was like I was in a virtual world. The same was true for the others—we were disconnected from the real world, meeting princesses, kings and queens.” Sauvage also had the chance to visit four high schools in Sweden and lecture to students. “Each time I delivered a lecture, I was thinking I can make our chemistry very accessible, I can talk about interlocking rings,” he added. Classrooms, of course, are very familiar to Sauvage. Now formally retired, he still works as a professor emeritus at the "Institut de Sciences et Ingenierie Supramoleculaires" at the University of Strasbourg. He served as director of research at CNRS from 1979 to 2009, when he became a professor emeritus and a visiting professor at Northwestern University. A very interesting challenge Sauvage came to his critical scientific discovery by using his expertise in the field of inorganic photochemistry, inspired by the structure of one of the complexes his team was working on at the time. His area of expertise is photochemistry, which involves developing molecular complexes to capture energy from sun rays and using it to power chemical reactions, according to the Nobel Prize committee. The field of topological chemistry, in which researchers interlock molecules, had stalled because chemists had been unsuccessful in creating molecules held together by mechanic
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