Stanford’s Carolyn Bertozzi wins Nobel in chemistry


By Nathan Collins and Taylor Kubota

Carolyn Bertozzi received an early birthday gift this year.

Bertozzi, the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and a professor of chemistry, with courtesy appointments in Chemical & Systems Biology and Radiology, has won the 2022 Nobel Prize in chemistry – just a few days before her 56th birthday next Monday.

She shares the $10 million Swedish kronor (about $1 million USD) prize equally with Morten Meldal, professor at University of Copenhagen; and K. Barry Sharpless, PhD ’68, professor at Scripps Research “for the development of click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry.” The Nobel Prize in chemistry is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Bertozzi was recognized for founding the field of bioorthogonal chemistry, a set of chemical reactions that allow researchers to study molecules and their interactions in living things without interfering with natural biological processes. Bertozzi’s lab first developed the methods in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Since then, her lab and others have used them to answer fundamental questions about the role of sugars in biology, to solve practical problems, such as developing better tests for infectious diseases, and to create a new biological pharmaceutical that can better target tumors, which is now being tested in clinical trials.

“I could not be more delighted that Carolyn Bertozzi has won the Nobel Prize in chemistry,” said Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. “In pioneering the field of bioorthogonal chemistry, Carolyn invented a new way of studying biomolecular processes, one that has helped scientists around the world gain deeper understanding of chemical reactions in living systems. Her work has had remarkable real-world impact, unleashing new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to treat disease. Carolyn is so deserving of this honor, and all of us at Stanford are tremendously proud to call her one of our own.”

Early Wednesday morning, Bertozzi held her hands to her face, in shock. “They call and I’m not even awake … Starbucks isn’t even open yet,” she exclaimed while in her pajamas at her kitchen table in Palo Alto.

By 3 a.m., Bertozzi had nearly three dozen voicemails. “This is how it’s going to be all day. This is insane,” she said. “Maybe I should cancel meetings.”

Pausing between interviews about two hours later to check her messages, Bertozzi said, “My family is already booking their flights to Stockholm. It’s hilarious. Go back to sleep!”