Jean-Marie Lehn – pioneer in Supramolecular Chemistry

Jean-Marie Lehn – pioneer in Supramolecular Chemistry

Jean-Marie Lehn – pioneer in Supramolecular Chemistry

Biography & Contributions

Jean-Marie Lehn is a French chemist and Nobel laureate born on September 30, 1939. Lehn was the winner of Nobel Prize in the year of 1987, Davy medal in the year of 1997.

He is well noted for his works – synthesized cryptands and extensive works in supramolecular chemistry.

His research focused on the physical properties of molecules, synthesizing compounds specifically designed for exhibiting a given property.

In 1968, he achieved the synthesis of cage-like molecules, comprising a cavity inside which another molecule could be lodged.

Lehn expanded on Pedersen’s achievement in creating crown ethers, a class of two-dimensional, ring-shaped organic compounds that are capable of selectively recognizing and combining with other molecules.

In the course of his efforts to synthesize three-dimensional molecules that would possess similar reactive characteristics, Lehn created a molecule that combines with the chemical acetylcholine, which is an important neurotransmitter in the brain. His work raised the possibility of creating totally artificial enzymes that would have characteristics superior to their natural counterparts in the human body.

What are Crown Ethers?

Crown ethers are cyclic chemical compounds that consist of a ring containing several ether groups. Crown ethers are much broader than the oligomers of ethylene oxide.

Crown ethers strongly bind certain cations, forming complexes. The oxygen atoms are well situated to coordinate with a cation located at the interior of the ring, whereas the exterior of the ring is hydrophobic. The resulting cations often form salts that are soluble in nonpolar solvents, and for this reason crown ethers are useful in phase transfer catalysis. Crown ethers are not the only macrocyclic ligands that have affinity for the potassium cation.


Cryptands are a family of synthetic bi- and polycyclic multidentate ligands for a variety of cations. The term cryptand implies that this ligand binds substrates in a crypt, interring the guest as in a burial. Cryptands form complexes with many "hard cations" including NH4+, lanthanoids, alkali metals, and alkaline earth metals.

Cryptands are more expensive and difficult to prepare, but offer much better selectivity and strength of binding than other complexants for alkali metals, such as crown ethers. Cryptands enabled the synthesis of the alkalides and electrides. They have also been used in the crystallization of Zintl ions such as Sn94−.

What is Supramolecular chemistry?

Supramolecular chemistry refers to the domain of chemistry beyond that of molecules and focuses on the chemical systems made up of a discrete number of assembled molecular subunits or components.

Supramolecular chemistry can require molecules to distort into thermodynamically disfavored conformations, and may include some covalent chemistry that goes along with the supramolecular.

Supramolecular chemistry is also important to the development of new pharmaceutical therapies by understanding the interactions at a drug binding site. Supramolecular chemistry has been used to demonstrate computation functions on a molecular scale.

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