Three scientists have been awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for a toolkit to manipulate carbon atoms, paving the way for new drugs to fight cancer and for revolutionary plastics.
Richard Heck of the United States and Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki of Japan were lauded for their work in organic chemistry, a field whose basis is carbon, one of the essential atoms of life.
"It is important to emphasise the great significance their discoveries have for both academic and industrial research and in the production of fine chemicals - including pharmaceuticals, agricultural chemicals and high-tech materials - that benefit society," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.
Heck, 79, is a professor at the University of Delaware in the United States. Negishi, 75, also teaches in the United States, at Purdue University in Indiana and Suzuki, 80, is based at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan.
The trio developed a process known as palladium-catalysed cross coupling, a means of knitting carbon atoms together so that they form a stable "skeleton" for organic molecules.
The tool has applications in the medical, electronics and agricultural fields.
It has allowed chemists to synthesise compounds to fight colon cancer, the herpes virus and HIV, as well as smarter plastics that are used in consumer applications, such as ultra-thin computer monitors.
The discoveries "have had a great impact on academic research, the development of new drugs and materials, and are used in many industrial chemical processes for the synthesis of pharmaceuticals," the academy said.
The Nobel Prize has been awarded on four previous occasions for breakthroughs in organic chemistry - in 1912, 1950, 1979 and 2005.
In the 1960s, Heck laid the groundwork for coupling between carbon atoms by using a catalyst, or chemical to promote the process.
This was finetuned in the 1970s by Negishi, who used a field of compounds known as organohalides, and taken a step further by Suzuki, who found a practical way to carry out the process using so-called organoborons.