Given the intense environmentalist propaganda, you could think that exotic silvery metals such as palladium (Z=46) have no business to participate in organic chemistry. They're just toxic pollutants, aren't they? ;-)
Well, the 2010 chemistry Nobel prize went to
Richard Heck (US),for palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis. Palladium is helpful to put the pieces of various organic molecules together.
Ei-ichi Negishi (US, JP),
Akira Suzuki (JP)
Let me ignore that Negishi's birthplace - Changchun - belongs to China now.
You may ask what are the technical names of the findings that the laureates are famous for. Because it is a chemistry prize, it is not hard to guess. Heck is known for the Heck reaction, Suzuki is well-known for the Suzuki reaction, also known as the Suzuki coupling, and Negishi is well-known for the Negishi coupling. :-)
These advances took place between the late 1960s and the late 1970s and several other chemists participated. In all cases, two molecules of the type "R1-MetalX1" and "R2-X2" are joined to "R1-R2" under the influence of some catalyst that contains palladium (or at most nickel).
I feel that the "right way" to synthetize all these molecules had to be found out after many attempts and those folks had to acquire a lot of extra intuition that would be hardly derivable from the first principles (but in principle, it would be possible, too). In this sense, the modern chemistry doesn't differ much from the old alchemy.