EPSRC-funded molecular machine maker awarded Nobel Prize

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A British academic who achieved his breakthrough while supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has been congratulated on winning the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Professor Sir J Fraser Stoddart was jointly awarded the prize with Professors Bernard Feringa and Jean-Pierre Sauvage for their development of molecular machines, a thousand times thinner than a human hair.

The tiny molecular machines could potentially be used for the delivery of drugs inside the human body and to develop new smart materials.

Professor Stoddart, who received grant funding from EPSRC while he carried out his ground-breaking work in the 1990s, made a major advance by threading a molecular ring on a rod-like structure acting as an axle, and moving the ring when heat was applied. This led to further progress through the development of molecular machines such as lifts, muscles and a computer chip.

Commenting on the latest Nobel Prize, Professor Philip Nelson, Chief Executive, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), said: “This is yet another UK science success story. On behalf of EPSRC I would like to congratulate all involved and Sir Fraser Stoddart in particular. He has worked on over 20 EPSRC-funded projects during his career including some international collaborations while based in the US; and his work on nanostructures will have real-world impact.”

Professor Lee Cronin, Regius Chair of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow and an EPSRC RISE Leader, who is a friend of Professor Stoddart, said: “Fraser is an inspirational individual in terms of setting an example by pressing ahead with his vision, communicating his ideas fantastically, and never giving up whatever the circumstances.”

“He has really changed the way the world views chemistry and the potential of synthesis and self-assembly by showing that molecules can be engaged to become machines.

“The fundamental synthesis and the analytical machinery he used was funded by EPSRC.

“This award is amazing for UK science and amazing for UK chemistry.”

Notes for Editors

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

As the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, our vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world to Research, Discover and Innovate.

By investing £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture.

We work collectively with our partners and other Research Councils on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

Reference: PN 55-16