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Chemistry Nobel Recognizes Spectrometry, NMR Advances
Oct 2002
STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Oct. 11 -- The 2002 Nobel Prize for chemistry was awarded to three scientists for their work in advanced spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to study biological macromolecules.

Half of the award is being jointly given to John B. Fenn of Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va., and Koichi Tanaka of Shimadzu Corp., Kyoto, Japan, for their development of soft desorption ionisation methods for mass spectrometric analyses of biological macromolecules; the other half will go to Kurt Wuthrich of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, Switzerland, and The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, Calif., for his development of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy for determining the 3-D structure of biological macromolecules in solution, similar to the environment of the living cell.

Fenn published findings in 1988 on electrospray ionisation, in which charged droplets of protein solution are produced that shrink as the water evaporates. Eventually freely hovering protein ions remain. Their masses may be determined by setting them in motion and measuring their time of flight over a known distance. Tanaka introduced a different technique, soft laser desorption, for causing the proteins to hover freely. A laserpulse hits the sample, which is "blasted" into small bits so the molecules are released.

Wuthrich developed a general method of systematically assigning certain fixed points in the protein molecule, and also a principle for determining the distances between these. Using the distances, he was able to calculate the 3-D structure of the protein.

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