Predicting the ‘06 Nobel in Chemistry

Putting that list together about the all-time top 10 organic chemists got me thinking about who’s going to win the chemistry Nobel this year (or any year). Since 2000, everyone’s annual guess was olefin metathesis and it finally won. Now that the low-hanging fruit’s been picked, the race is wide open. Below, I’ve thrown out some names and topics that could be recognized this year. I’m doing this on the fly, so I’m sure it’s incomplete…fill in the blanks and we can set odds when we’ve got a complete list of candidates.

(yes, yes…too many organic chemists)

Self-Assembly (too unproven?)
Genomics or related analytical techniques

Wow…this is hard. I also have a strange feeling this is going to be another biochemical/medical year, and my knowledge of this area is limited.

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32 Comments on “Predicting the ‘06 Nobel in Chemistry”

  1. eugene Says:

    Why not an organometallics technique once again? Something like assymetric hydrogenation catalysis. You’ve got to work in organometallics to win Nobels these days. Or, to have a better shot I should say. So cross-coupling is in, self-assembly is out. Somebody should win a prize for just developing BINAP and share it with two people who did useful catalysis with that scaffold.

    I can’t understand most of those self-assembly posters I see when I pass them in the hallway and when I see pretty pictures of huge stuff coming together, I still can’t picture a useful point.

  2. tech Says:

    Nicolaou + Danishefsky

    Total synthesis

    eugene - noyori won prize for binap already.

  3. Klug Says:

    I would pay a good five dollars to get a ten minute speech on why Nicolaou deserves a Nobel prize for his total synthesis work.

    I tend to count Grubbs/Chauvin/Schrock as a nod towards organic chemistry, so I think we’ll (as in organic chemists) will take a back seat like we did after Noyori and Sharpless (and Knowles.)

  4. Paul Says:

    Do you think there will be another Nobel for natural product synthesis? It might also pose a problem in that there are seemingly more than three people who could share in such a prize.

  5. j Says:

    What has Nicolau done that deserves a Nobel? Seriously, not (too much of) a smartass question, but why would he get one? Thanks for anyone’s thoughts.

  6. Klug Says:

    Paul, I tend to think that no, there won’t be another total synthesis Nobel. If so, it would be aimed at someone who’s been able to seriously apply it to chemical biology. (I have to go, so I’ll come back and explain (arrogantly) what I think Schreiber/Schultz have to do to get there.)

    Either that, or there would be another ‘career’ one for folks like Evans and then the field would be out for another 30 years.

  7. too much orgo Says:

    My money is on Peter Schultz (Scripps). Engineering artificial amino acids into enzymes and proteins is kick-ass cool and definitely Nobel-worthy.

    My dark horse is Roger Tsien (UCSD). Green Fluorescent Grotein is pretty cool, too.

  8. Paul Says:

    That’s a good one–fluorescent probes are great tools for biological studies.

  9. Klug Says:

    What pops out at me about the way organic chemistry Nobels are awarded recently is that they tend less to be ‘accumulative’ prizes as opposed to prizes handed out for a concrete and practical application. (Sharpless’ epoxidation and di-OH chemistry, Grubbs’ catalyst.) I could be wrong, but I haven’t found anything from either Schultz or Schreiber that is both popular and cool.

    If I were to nominate a discipline-crossing methodology, it would be C-H activation. The field can survive the negation of Sames’ results; I like Hartwig and possibly Du Bois. However, this falls under the same category as Schultz/Schreiber: sure, they can do it, but is anyone else willing to or skilled enough to use their new chemistry?

  10. Klug Says:

    One more thing: Suzuki has not won a Nobel prize. That’s gotta change.

  11. Paul Says:

    C-H activation is a hot field, but no one’s made an earth-shattering advance yet. There’s plenty left to discover there, so I think a Nobel Prize is at least 20 years off. The committee tends to be pretty conservative, although not always (e.g. fullerenes in ‘96).

    As for Suzuki, I agree (and had put cross coupling on the list). A lot of people think cross-coupling has never been recognized because of J.K. Stille’s untimely death.

  12. KUhokie Says:

    I agree that “Total Synthesis” will probably not be recognized again unless someone comes up with some completely new way of looking at things (i.e retrosynthentic analysis). It is a shame that cross-coupling has not gotten recognized, but again it comes down to the sheer numbers of people that have contributed. I like the suggestion of the GFP I was surprised to find it hadn’t already won and I also like the self-assembly/macromolecule suggestions.

  13. ScandalWatcher Says:

    I still hope Richard F. Heck and Jiro Tsuji can win for their legendary work on organopalladium chemistry.

  14. eugene Says:

    Noyori won a nobel prize? Well, that shows that I don’t pay attention to those awards too much. Yes, I agree that Suzuki should win. Sometime…

  15. Brian Says:

    It is noteworthy to mention that the Nobel Committee has interpreted “Chemistry” in a very liberal manner as of late, using it to now encompass most of molecular biology (for example, Ubiquitination, or Sodium Channel Crystallography).

    Having said that, siRNA is an easy choice for a Nobel Prize; the rapid manner in which miRNA and siRNA kits have been incorporated into biological research is a hallmark of Nobel-Prize worthy work, and thus, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a prize given away to its greatest contributors (I don’t know who they are). It’s also a fundamentally novel system; emerging roles of RNA is THE story of the last decade in biology aside from the Human Genome Project.

    A strong case for Fluorescent Protein work can be made as well, along the same lines, and thus, Tsien and his predecessors are also solid choices.

    I doubt Schreiber or Schultz will win anytime soon, if at all; chemical biology is too shrouded in controversy (what have we really learned, in a fundamental biological sense? nothing too profound…) and the Nobel Committee always shies away from such fields. Remember, for an applied scientific technique, it just can’t be “cool,” like Schultz’s work; it has to make a fundamental contribution to discovery (like PCR) or human welfare (like MRI). Schultz’s work can’t really claim either.

    Per Schreiber, I think combinatorial chem would win before chemical genetics anyway, since chemical genetics is too dependent on “DOS,” which everybody knows is just sexed-up combi-chem. Thus, people like Ellman are long-shots, though combi-chem is doubtful to win.

    It almost certainly won’t be organometallic, not after Grubbs got it last year; they tend to rotate the awards. Cross-Coupling chemistry is also a good candidate, though most chemical processes that are rewarded usually have strong industrial impacts, and I’m not too sure how frequently cross-coupling is used on an industrial scale.

    It is also doubtful anybody would get it for synthesis. People in the synthetic groups like to grumble about Evans for acyclic stereocontrol and stuff like that, but that’s a longshot at best.

    Of course, there is a ton of physical and analytical stuff I don’t know that could win…

  16. Brian Says:

    Did I say sodium channel? I meant potassium channel.

    Anyway, your Djerassi pick is a good one… supposedly, that man was instrumental in the development of the Pill… huge impact on human society.

  17. zany Says:

    the organic prizes tend to be cumulative because if its focuses on synthesis, you better do one hell of a job (i.e., a career’s worth) and for methods they must clearly take the science of synthesis to a new level. asymmetric catalysis definitely did that, as did olefin metathesis. completely revolutionary developments. no way C-H activation is even in the same galaxy……yet. i really can’t see a synthetic prize for a number of years. and i don’t think there should be one either. Let’s fade to the background and get some results for a while.

  18. Klug Says:

    It’s my understanding that Suzuki-type reactions are extremely common in medicinal chemistry to the point of being essential.

  19. Brian Says:

    I talked with Kevin Phillips, who knows orders of magnitude more about molecular biology than I do. He says he’d put his money on Chris Dobson, who is a physical biochemist who has done groundbreaking work on amyloid-based diseases… apparently, it’s a field which has yet to receive its due prize.

    He also pointed out that the best indicator for the Nobel Prize is the Lasker Foundation Award, though since the award is purely medical, it is a clairvoyant for both the medical and the chemical awards. Some of the winners could easily fall under chemistry… for example this year’s clinical winners were Jeffreys and Southern, for DNA-fingerprinting and Southern Blotting, respectively… techniques that could easily fall under the domain of chemistry in the eyes of the Nobel Committee.

  20. Jordan Says:

    While the achievements of the total synthetists and the catalysisists are notable, I think that the latter have had ample recognition lately (Sharpless/Noyori, Grubbs/Schrock) while for the former, there would have to be someone who has contributed far above and beyond Corey to be considered, I think.

    After I read the post, my first inclination was to suggest that future Chemistry-oriented NPs would go to “the unnatural-amino-acids-incorporated-into-proteins crowd” and “the GFP,-photocaged-molecules-and-fluorescent-probes” crowd. I’m glad to see I wasn’t alone in these thoughts… The NP committee seems to like either fundamental advances or ones that have a broad influence outside of their immediate field. These two (or at least the latter) seem to fit that bill.

  21. hephaistos Says:

    Speaking of long overdue, what about Neil Bartlett for synthesizing the first noble gas compounds?

    And don’t forget those who for all practical purposes founded a new field - bioinorganic chemistry - people like Steve Lippard and Dick Holm?

  22. rhodium Says:

    If you want useful organic chemistry, it is hard to overlook Letsinger and Caruthers. There is no biotechnology without being able to make short, defined DNA oligos. DNA synthesis is the most highly evolved chemistry there is and its now part of all the hot areas, especially nanotechnology.

  23. Catastrophe Waitress Says:

    Brian - “He says he’d put his money on Chris Dobson, who is a physical biochemist who has done groundbreaking work on amyloid-based diseases… apparently, it’s a field which has yet to receive its due prize.”

    Stanley Prusiner won the Nobel in 1997 for discovering prions….

  24. The Pill Says:

    Djerassi should have won long ago but the pill is still a bit of a political hot potato. I don’t think he’ll ever get recognition from the Nobel committee.

  25. Klug Says:

    Isn’t Sweden more than a little immune to the concerns of the Catholic Church?

  26. Babar Says:

    Letsinger and Caruthers. Are they generally credited with DNA synthesis? I’m curious about the story of how todays phosphoramidate chemistry came about if anyone knows a quick history. That is certainly a shoo-in for the nobel. But I always figured DNA synthesis hadn’t received one because the credit is spread out over too many people who contributed many step-wise advances.

    Plus, Khorana would presumably be the primary recipient and he and the method have already been honored in part by giving him the prize for using DNA synthesis to help decipher the genetic code.

    DNA synthesis is damn amazing though. Read a cloning/biochem paper from as little as 20 years ago, pre-PCR and pre-(routine) DNA synthesis and you’ll be blown away how easy things are now. To put it in perspective for any interested non-bio people: The cloning of the first human genes such as growth hormone were multi-lab competitive battles that took multiple years and resulted in Genentech paying $200million to those who cloned the gene. Today 1 person could reproduce that in 1-2weeks. If you’re lazy or have money you can pay to have it done for you (completely via synthetic DNA) for about $2k and guaranteed delivery in 4-5 days.

  27. Babar Says:

    I think Schultz could win it for the discovery of Catalytic Antibodies, the same year that that the physics prize goes to the guys from Utah who discovered Cold Fusion.

  28. Reuben Says:

    (1) Schultz, PG
    engineering unnatural amino acids into proteins
    (2) Roger Tsien
    GFP and Ca+ sensor
    (3) Wong, CH
    sugar chemsitry
    (4) Whiteside, GM
    career reward
    (5) Gray, Lippard, Holm
    bioinorganic chemistry
    (6) Ratner, MA
    molecular electronics
    (7) somebody in Stanford
    single molecule spectroscopy

  29. ? Says:

    would (7) be Richard Zare?

  30. The Endless Frontier » Blog Archive » Chemistry Nobel ‘06: Let’s Make It Interesting Says:

    […] We are less than a month away from the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on October 4th. You might remember this thread from a while back where everyone vomited out speculation on the matter. It still seems like the contest is wide open, but I’ve narrowed down my guesses to two: a ‘head’ pick and a ‘gut’ pick. […]

  31. The Endless Frontier » Blog Archive » Nobel Prize in Chemistry: The 2006 Line Says:

    […] Buzz in the Blogosphere Derek Lowe, In the Pipeline: 2005, 2006 Sceptical Chymist: 2006 Curious Wavefunction: 2006 Endless Frontier: 2006-1, 2006-2 […]

  32. Diz Says:

    There is no way that Schultz could win for unnatural amino acids. He did not start this field, he may have made the most recent hot advances but people like Sid Hecht deserve a lot more of the props for this since they started the whole thing. It was based on the ribosomal synthesis of polyesters by some one a long time ago. Schultz and Schreiber are non-starters in my book. The prize is lokelt to go to Southern for southern blot and the guys that did gene arrays. They have collectively changed the way that biology is done. It could also be genome sequencing. They could both fit in nicely with the chemistry prize, go look at the statute.