PROFESSOR David William Cross MacMillan has been announced as the latest Scot to win a Nobel Prize. The Bellshill-born Professor at Princeton is sharing the 2021 Nobel Prize for Chemistry with Professor Benjamin List of Cologne University for their roles in “the development of asymmetric organocatalysis”.

No, we didn’t know what “asymmetric organocatalysis” was either, so we asked the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences which organises the prize for a description.

They said it is “a new and ingenious tool for molecule building”, which has also helped in the development of plastics, perfumes and flavours.

READ MORE: Scottish scientist David WC MacMillan jointly wins Nobel Prize in chemistry

The Academy added: “Organic catalysts can be used to drive multitudes of chemical reactions. Using these reactions, researchers can now more efficiently construct anything from new pharmaceuticals to molecules that can capture light in solar cells.”

It has been seen as a major contribution to the “greening” of chemistry. Professor Tom Welton, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “Organocatalysis has made a huge impact across chemicals synthesis. It has enabled us to develop new sustainable synthetic routes to important intermediates and products. It has also freed us from always relying on metals, that are often elements at risk, for our catalysts.”


HE is 53 and was educated at Glasgow University from where he graduated with a BSc in chemistry in 1989. He received his PhD in 1996 from the University of California, Irvine, USA.

From 1996 to 1998, he performed postdoctoral research with Professor Dave Evans at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA. He then started his independent career at the University of California, Berkeley, USA.

MacMillan joined the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, USA, in 2000, and was appointed Earle C Anthony Chair of Organic Chemistry there in 2004.

The National:

In 2006, he was appointed A Barton Hepburn Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Merck Center for Catalysis at Princeton University in New Jersey – largely the creation of the Reverend John Witherspoon, born in Haddington and the only clergyman and only college president to sign the US Declaration of Independence Prof MacMillan is now James S McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry at Princeton. He is a Fellow of both the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Edinburgh and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

On his Twitter feed he describes himself as having “a great wife, three annoying kids and a ‘unique’ mother-in-law.”


APPARENTLY so. He even bet fellow recipient Prof List $1000 that it was a prank. He’ll be able to afford the wager – the Nobel Prize is worth £800,000.

“I am shocked and stunned and overjoyed,” MacMillan said on Princeton’s website. “It was funny because I got some texts from people in Sweden really early this morning and I thought they were pranking me so I went back to sleep. Then my phone starting going crazy.

“What we care about is trying to invent chemistry that has an impact on society and can do some good, and I am thrilled to have a part in that. Organocatalysis was a pretty simple idea that really sparked a lot of different research, and the part we’re just so proud of is that you don’t have to have huge amounts of equipment and huge amounts of money to do fine things in chemistry.”

READ MORE: Let’s celebrate Scotland’s history when it comes to the Nobel Prize

Professor Justin Hargreaves, head of the University of Glasgow’s School of Chemistry, said: “Huge congratulations to Benjamin List and David MacMillan on receiving the 2021 Nobel prize in chemistry for their work on organic catalysts.

“We’re particularly thrilled for David, who undertook his undergraduate degree in chemistry here at the University of Glasgow. He has maintained links with the School of Chemistry in the years since, including offering bursaries to support students, for which we’re very grateful.

“He is now the fifth Nobel laureate in chemistry associated with the university, after Sir William Ramsay, Frederick Soddy, Sir Alexander Robertus Todd and Sir Derek Barton.

“They are some of the most accomplished chemists of their time, and we’re delighted that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has chosen to place David among them.”


MACMILLAN follows in a distinguished line dating back to Sir Ronald Ross, who was actually born in India, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1902 for his work on Malaria. Including Ross, Scotland has a total of 16 Nobel laureates, with Sir Alexander Fleming, Sir James Black, and Sir Angus Deaton the most famous of them.

Many other Nobel laureates have strong connections to Scotland, such as Sir Peter Higgs of Edinburgh University.


AFTER Sweden and Switzerland, Scotland has the third highest number of Nobel Laureates per head of population.

Despite the claims of Sorley MacLean and Hugh MacDiarmid, to name but two, no Scot has ever won the Novel Prize for Literature. We have had winners in every other category.

We might claim Sir Winston Churchill for the Literature prize – he was once a Scottish MP, a Scottish regimental officer and Rector of Edinburgh University.