Jean-Marie Lehn (born September 30, 1939 ) is a French chemist. He received the Nobel Prize together with Donald Cram and Charles Pedersen in 1987 for his work in Chemistry, particularly his synthesis of the cryptands. Professor Lehn was an early innovator in the field of supramolecular chemistry, i.e., producing large, useful compounds from smaller pieces in a rational way, and continues to innovate in this field. He has published in excess of 800 peer-reviewed articles in chemistry literature.
His father was a baker, but because of his interest for music, later gave it up to become the city's organist. Jean-Marie Lehn also studied music, saying that it became his major interest after science. He has continued to play the organ throughout his professional career as a scientist. His high school studies, from 1950 to 1957, included Latin, Greek, German, and English languages, French literature, and he later became very keen of both philosophy and science, particularly chemistry. In July 1957, he obtained the baccalauréat in philosophy, and in September of the same year, the baccalauréat in Natural Sciences.
Although he considered studying philosophy, he ended up taking courses in physical, chemical and natural sciences, attending the lectures of Guy Ourisson, and realizing that he wanted to pursue a research career in organic chemistry.
After earning his bachelor's, he joined Ourisson's lab, working his way to the Ph.D. There, he was in charge of the lab's first NMR spectrometeter, and published his first scientific paper, which pointed out an additivity rule for substituent induced shifts of proton NMR signals in steroid derivatives. He obtained his Ph.D., and went to work for a year at Robert Burns Woodward's laboratory at Harvard University, working among other things on the synthesis of vitamin B12.
Career in France
In 1966, he was appointed a position as maître de conférences (assistant professor) at the Chemistry Department of the University of Strasbourg. His research focused on the physical properties of molecules, synthesizing compounds specifically designed for exhibiting a given property, in order to better understand how that property was related to structure.
In 1968, he achieved the synthesis of cage-like molecules, comprising a cavity inside which another molecule could be lodged. Organic chemistry enabled him to engineer cages with the desired shape, thus only allowing a certain type of molecule to lodge itself in the cage. This was the premise for an entire new field in chemistry, sensors. Such mechanisms also play a great role in molecular biology.
These cryptands, as Lehn dubbed them, became his main center of interest, and led to his definition of a new type of chemistry, "supramolecular chemistry", which instead of studying the bonds inside one molecule, looks at intermolecular attractions, and what would be later called "fragile objects", such as micelles, polymers, or clays.
In 1980, he was elected to become a teacher at the prestigious Collège de France, and in 1987 was awarded the Nobel Prize, alongside D.J.Cram and C.J. Pedersen for his works on cryptands.
* Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1987)
* Commander of the Légion d'Honneur (1996)
* Officer of the Ordre National du Mérite (1993)
* Knight of the Ordre des Palmes Académiques (1989)
* Österreichische Ehrenkreuz für Wissenschaft und Kunst, (first class) (2001)