The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced today that the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2013 would be shared by Dr.'s Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel 'for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems.' The three receive the award based on their collaborative efforts to design a computer program to reveal how chemical processes proceed.
Under normal conditions chemical reactions occur very quickly as electrons move between atomic nuclei. This makes it virtually impossible for every step in the process to be mapped experimentally. When the 3 Nobel Laureates began their collaboration in the 1970's suitable computer programs were being developed based on classical Newtonian physics, which were useful in showing how atoms are positioned in a large molecule, such as a protein, and programs based on quantum physics which were useful for simulating chemical reactions. The work that earned Karplus, Levitt and Warshel the Nobel Prize was the program they developed that allowed these two fundamentally different types of physics to work side by side. They used quantum theoretical calculations to describe the interface between a protein and its smaller substrate while the rest of the large protein was simulated using classical physics. Their breakthrough made the computer just as important to chemists as traditional experiments.