David MacMillan is one of the two scientists awarded the 2021 Nobel prize in chemistry for the discovery of a new type of catalyst that has revolutionized the development of drugs.
Tristan Lambert, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Cornell University, was MacMillan’s first graduate student when he started as an assistant professor at UC-Berkeley in 1998. Lambert says MacMillan transformed the world of synthetic organic chemistry.
“I was the first student to sign up to join Dave MacMillan’s research group at UC-Berkeley, and one of a handful of people who started doing research with him that first summer. I played a small role in the inspiration of the work that led to the Nobel Prize. I had asked MacMillan a question about the mechanism of a chemical reaction I was attempting, and while he was showing me the answer on the blackboard next to my research bench – he had the idea that became ‘asymmetric organocatalysis’.
“I think it is fair to say that MacMillan has transformed the world of synthetic organic chemistry. He has this incredible knack for identifying simple but powerful ideas that completely change the way people think about making molecules. When I think back to how different our field is now compared to when I started graduate school, I don’t think ‘revolution’ is too strong a word, and so much of what has changed has MacMillan’s fingerprints all over it.”