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Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Jean-Marie Lehn with Donald J. Cram and Charles J. Pedersen in 1987

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Source: La lettre, no. 35, December 2012

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Supramolecular Chemistry: a Domain of Transmission

1In 1967 Jean-Marie Lehn initiated research in a new field that was to be called “molecular recognition”, as it was concerned with how molecules are able to selectively bind with one another, a given molecule choosing its partner as though it recognized it through a sort of “Lock and Key” complementarity. For this work, Jean-Marie Lehn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1987.

2Starting with the building of “cage” molecules, the “cryptands”, able to incorporate host species in their cavity, thereby forming “cryptates”, Jean-Marie Lehn’s research led him to define a new field within chemistry which he called “supramolecular chemistry”. This field is concerned with the complex entities formed by the association of two or more chemical species linked to one another through non-covalent intermolecular interactions, just as molecules are constituted with atoms bound to one another through strong covalent bonds.

3The aim of supramolecular chemistry also extends to other functions relying on molecular recognition processes. Thus, like living processes but in other areas, it is also interested in the chemical transformation of molecules linked in the same way as enzymes, and to the phenomena of transportation through membranes.

4Building on these basic functions, the work carried out led to the design and development of molecular and supramolecular systems using photons, electrons or ions as effectors (photo­nic, electronic and molecular ionic), with storage, transfer, and information processing properties at molecular level.

Supramolecular chemistry is thus
highly interdisciplinary in nature and draws bridges between chemistry, biology and physics
while also paving the way for diverse
industrial applications.

5Jean-Marie Lehn’s domain of activity then expanded towards increasingly complex systems and processes of organized ­matter, such as auto-assembly and auto-organization pheno­mena, involving molecular programming.

6More recently, the transposition of the structural plasticity of supramolecular chemistry to molecular chemistry led to the emergence of a constitutional dynamic chemistry that covers both domains. It is based both on the lability of intermolecular bonds and on the introduction of reversible covalent bonds in molecules, so as to allow for a continuous exchange of compo­nents. The chemical object, whether molecular or supramolecular, thus becomes able to respond to external stimuli, from another substance or from the environment, by changing its own constitution. The result is the emergence of an adaptive and evolutional chemistry, which represents one more step towards understanding complex matter.

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« Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Jean-Marie Lehn with Donald J. Cram and Charles J. Pedersen in 1987 », La lettre du Collège de France [En ligne], 7 | 2015, mis en ligne le 29 octobre 2015, consulté le 15 décembre 2018. URL :

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