The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2010 was awarded jointly to Richard F. Heck, Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki “for palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis”. This chemical tool has vastly improved the possibilities for chemists to create sophisticated chemicals, for example carbon-based molecules as complex as those created by nature itself.
In order to create these complex chemicals, chemists need to be able to join carbon atoms together. However, carbon is stable and carbon atoms do not easily react with one another. The first methods used by chemists to bind carbon atoms together were therefore based upon various techniques for rendering carbon more reactive. Such methods worked when creating simple molecules, but when synthesizing more complex molecules chemists ended up with too many unwanted by-products in their test tubes.
Palladium-catalyzed cross coupling solved that problem and provided chemists with a more precise and efficient tool to work with. In the Heck reaction, Negishi reaction and Suzuki reaction, carbon atoms meet on a palladium atom, whereupon their proximity to one another kick-starts the chemical reaction.