The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2002.
"for their development of soft desorption ionisation methods for mass spectrometric analyses of biological macromolecules"
John B. Fenn (1917 - ) and Koichi Tanaka (1959 - ) were awarded the Nobel Prize for developing techniques using mass spectrometry to determine the molecular mass of proteins and peptides. Here's the Press Release describing their achievements.
Mass spectrometry is a very important analytical method used in practically all chemistry laboratories the world over. Previously only fairly small molecules could be identified, but John B. Fenn and Koichi Tanaka have developed methods that make it possible to analyse biological macromolecules as well.
In the method that John B. Fenn published in 1988, electrospray ionisation (ESI), charged droplets of protein solution are produced which shrink as the water evaporates. Eventually freely hovering protein ions remain. Their masses may be determined by setting them in motion and measuring their time of flight over a known distance. At the same time Koichi Tanaka introduced a different technique for causing the proteins to hover freely, soft laser desorption. A laserpulse hits the sample, which is “blasted” into small bits so that the molecules are released.
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