The ability to carry chemsitry experiments in real time through computers has won three chemists this year's Nobel prize for chemistry. The Nobel for chemistry has been awarded to Martin Karplus (Harvard), Michael Levitt (Stanford School of Medicine) and Arieh Warshel (Southern California) "for the development of multi-scale models for complex chemical systems".
The use of computers to carry out experiments has yielded a much deeper understanding of how chemical processes work. Computer models simulating real life have become crucial for most advances made in chemistry today. Chemists earlier used to create models of molecules using plastic balls and sticks. Today, the modelling is carried out in computers. In the 1970s, Karplus, Levitt and Warshel had laid the foundation for powerful programs to understand and predict chemical processes. The strength of the methods they developed is that they are universal i.e. can be used to study all kinds of chemistry; from biolgical to industrial processes. Scientists can optimize solar cells, catalysts in motor vehicles or even drugs, to take but a few examples.
Karplus, Levitt and Warshel's work is revolutionary because they managed to make Newton's classical physics work side-by-side with quantum physics. Previously, chemists had to choose to use either or. Classical physics made calculations simple, which could be used to model really large molecules but it offered no way to simulate chemical reactions. For this, chemists had to use quantum physics. But such calculations required enormous computing power.