Jean-Marie Lehn is a chemist who developed the synthesis of cage-like molecules known as cryptands, which mimic the vital chemical functions of molecules in living organisms. This research led to the new field of ‘supramolecular chemistry’, the study of molecular systems and organised matter design. Jean-Marie shared the 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this research.
The term cryptand was coined to reflect the ‘burial’ of a metal ion in a surrounding molecular ‘crypt’. Able to bind otherwise insoluble salts into organic solvents, cryptands have enabled the synthesis of the alkalides and electrides. Jean-Marie’s research on how molecules recognise and selectively bind an ion substrate is crucial to our understanding of biological processes such as cell development and vision, which rely on similar molecular interactions for structure and function.