Some scientists love science simply because it is wonderful. Some pursue science because they feel "Research is for nations and mankind, not for researchers themselves". Prof. Ryoji Noyori firmly believes in the latter.
Contribution to Science
Prof. Noyori won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2001 for his study of hydrogenation. He has been an active promoter of Green Chemistry, which is a way of making chemical processes more sustainable.
Hydrogenation is simply the addition of hydrogen to other compounds. The most common reaction is the one used to produce margarine or vanaspati ghee. It was made by passing hydrogen through vegetable oils (also called unsaturated fats). Hydrogenation converts it into 'saturated fat', making it more like butter.
However, Prof. Noyori's method of hydrogen is used for other purposes. Known as 'Noyori asymmetric hydrogenation', it is used to make drugs like naproxen (used against arthritis) and the antibiotic levofloxacin.
He also developed a method for the commercial synthesis of menthol, which you know, helps giving you a fresh breath and cools your mouth. So next time you pop a mint, remember Professor Noyori!
Prof. Noyori was born in 1938 in Kobe, Japan. His father was a chemical scientist himself, and gave young Noyori a deep understanding of the science. When he was twelve, his father took him to a public lecture about nylon. It is said of nylon that it is made from coal, air and water. That was when he realized, as he says "Chemistry can create important things from almost nothing!"
He passed out from Nada High School and entered Kyoto University in 1957. He studied there for ten years, finally getting a Doctor of Engineering in 1967. He became a professor at Nagoya University in 1972, where he did much of his research.
In 2003, he became the President of RIKEN, one of the world's most prestigious institutes for scientific research. He has initiated a major programme for promoting Green Chemistry, as well as science education. He believes that "our ability to devise straightforward and practical chemical syntheses is indispensable to the survival of our species".