The 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Part III: Revised Odds

September 3rd, 2010

ChemBark MedallionPresented below is the official ChemBark list of odds against winning the 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.  The candidates are sorted by discovery/invention rather than by scientist, so you will note that some scientists are listed more than once.  The lists of scientists can get complicated.  In cases where someone not listed could easily share in the prize for the associated discovery, a “+” is listed.  In cases where one of the scientists listed could easily not share in that prize, a “–” is listed.  The odds are reported in “odds against” format.  Remember, this list attempts to address who will win the prize this year, not who should win the prize.  There’s a big difference, and the latter subject is best left for another day.

Odds Against Winning the 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Spectrosocopy & Application of Lasers, Zare/Moerner/+, 6-1
Nuclear Hormone Signaling, Chambon/Evans/Jensen, 7-1
Transition-Metal-Catalyzed Cross-Couplings, Suzuki/Heck/Sonogashira/Tsuji/+/–, 9-1
Bioinorganic Chemistry, Gray/Lippard/Holm/–, 9-1
The Field (everything not listed), 10-1
Electrochemistry/Electron Transfer, Bard/Hush/Gray/–, 15-1
Techniques in DNA Synthesis, Caruthers/Hood/+, 15-1
Instrumentation/Techniques in Genomics, Venter/+, 19-1
Biological Membrane Vesicles, Rothman/Schekman/+, 19-1
Molecular Studies of Gene Recognition,
Ptashne, 19-1
Combinatorial Chemistry/DOS,
Schreiber/+, 74-1
Solar Cells, Grätzel/+, 74-1
Pigments of Life,
Battersby/+, 99-1
Development of the Birth Control Pill, Djerassi, 99-1
Applications of NMR Spectroscopy, Pines/Roberts/McConnell/+/–, 99-1
Development of Chemical Biology, Schultz/Schreiber/+, 99-1
Self-Assembly, Whitesides/Nuzzo/Stang/–, 99-1
Molecular Modeling and Assorted Applications, Karplus/Houk/Schleyer/Miller/+/–, 99-1
Small Regulatory RNA, Ambros/Baulcombe/Ruvkun, 149-1
Eukaryotic RNA Polymerases, Roeder, 149-1
Mechanical Bonds and Applications, Sauvage/Stoddart/+, 149-1
Bio- & Organo-catalysis, List/Lerner/Barbas, 149-1
Organic Synthesis, Evans/Danishefsky/Nicolaou/Ley/Trost/Stork/Wender/Kishi/+/–, 199-1
Mechanistic Enzymology, Walsh, 199-1
Fluorocarbons, DuPont/Curran/–, 199-1
Polymer Science, Matyjaszewski/Langer/+/– 199-1
Understanding of Organic Stereochemistry, Mislow, 199-1
Tissue Engineering, Langer/+, 199-1
Contributions to Bioorganic Chemistry, Breslow/Eschenmoser/+, 199-1
Nanotechnology, Lieber/Whitesides/Alivisatos/Mirkin/Seeman/+/–, 199-1
Dendrimers, Frechet/Tomalia/+, 399-1
Astrochemistry, Oka, 399-1
Zeolites, Flanigan, 399-1
Molecular Recognition, Dervan/+, 399-1
Molecular Machines, Stoddart/Tour/+/–, 399-1


1.  This rundown is meant to approximate fair odds (without a built-in vig).  In case you don’t know how this way of reporting odds works, the listed numbers (“m-n”) mean the associated entry has an expected probabilty to win of n/(m+n).  Thus, 4-1 odds equates to a 20% expectation of winning.  If your pick wins at 4-1 and you’ve bet $1, you get paid $5 ($4 + your $1 bet back) minus the house’s vig.

2.  I’m not taking any action, you degenerate gamblers.

3.  The (qualitative) criteria that went into assigning these odds were discussed in a previous post.  Results from old predictions were also discussed in a previous post.  

4.  I think any decent list of this sort shouldn’t have many (or any) surprises on it.  Every other year, I read the ISI Thomson Reuters predictions and laugh at their sheer nonsense.  While there are people on the list above that would blow my mind if they won, they’re all appropriately listed at long odds.  If you’re baffled at something, feel free to deposit your ridicule in the comments.

5.  Note the drastically lowered odds for the field (i.e., a win by anyone unlisted) versus the 2007 list.  When you consider that the last three prizes in chemistry were all picked from the top half of the 2007 list, this modification doesn’t seem unwarranted.

6.   To all of you screaming, “Grätzel!”:  I think you’re overestimating his chances this year.  A prize for solar cells will probably not be awarded until someone actually “solves” the energy problem by inventing a cost-effective system for harnessing solar energy.   That area is simply too immature; however, his chances are not insignificant.  He does seem to have generated good buzz online, and the committee could always decide to give a “statement” prize about the importance of research in solar energy.

7.  The organocatalysis work of List et al. has generated a lot of buzz online, but I can’t see it winning any time soon.  Would the committee really recognize it before all of the Pd-catalysis work?

8.  Several people have noted in comments threads that Sonogashira is dead.  I can’t find an obituary anywhere, so I’m assuming he’s alive.

9.  Who is my final prediction for the 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (i.e., my one pick if someone were to put a gun to my head and say that a winning prediction was the only thing that would save my life)?  Since last year went to hard-core structural biology, I don’t fancy anything biological to win this year.  I’ve got to go with the laser people: Zare and Moerner.  If last year had gone to something to do with materials or physical chemsitry, I would probably have the nuclear hormone signaling people at the top of the list.  It’s so close that relatively minor factors are coming into play.

10.  Please share your disgust in the comments.

Other 2010 predictions (to be updated): Everyday Scientist, Curious Wavefunction, In the Pipeline, Thomson Reuters, Gaussling

39 Responses to “The 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Part III: Revised Odds”

  1. Matt Says:

    I just can’t see Zare winning. Don’t get me wrong, he’s awesome and I love his work, I just don’t know that his work has enough cache for the committee. And, if Moerner should win, I will need a full and unadulterated report on Jay’s reaction. There is no wall thick enough to muddle that tirade.
    My other issue is with the electrochem/etransfer award. We’ve already had two electron transfer awards (Rudy Marcus and Henry Taube). I think that selection should be stricken from your list.
    And as much as I would love for my favorite chemist to win, which would surely help your feeble chances of getting a job ;), I think that the award goes to Suzuki/Heck/Sonogashira.

  2. Paul Says:

    I did a lot of lumping. The ET/Electrochem award came out of asking, “what would Bard win a prize for and who else could they lump in?” So, I threw in two major ET people. Zare and Moerner also got lumped. While I think either could win, they won’t necessarily share one. Perhaps next year, the list should be made according to each scientist’s chances, which adds a whole new level of complexity (e.g , working out the individual odds for the Pd people). Ugh.

  3. sam Says:

    Matt, who is Jay?

  4. Matt Says:

    Jay is a man with strong convictions about ensemble averaging.

  5. sam Says:


  6. Orthogon Says:

    Something else to keep in mind is that Elwood Jensen is quite old (90ish). If the committee is going to award a prize for the nuclear receptors, they probably won’t have many more opportunities. A corollary to Jensen’s longevity, however, is that most of those discoveries were made a loooong time ago; the window may have closed.

  7. Joseph Says:

    @ Orthogon: Completely agree to you. Bert O’Malley should also be considered for nuclear hormone signaling award.

  8. Orthogon Says:

    That’s funny–I was just thinking about that today, too. If it’s given for nuclear hormone signaling, rather than discovery of the nuclear receptors, I think O’Malley would be an obvious choice. But who–Jensen, Evans or Chambon–gets the boot?

  9. ronathan richardson Says:

    Venter should really be a 250-1: a private businessman, disliked by many…
    Also, Akira Endo at least deserves a mention…hasn’t been a med-chem related prize in a while.

  10. Pete Davis Says:

    Protein folding chaperones is another one–probably not going to come right after the ribosome, but in the future. It’s a tough mix between Hartl, Horwich, Lindquist, and Ellis.

  11. Lars Says:

    Could go to Synthetic Biology, recognizing pioneering studies using DNA and protein chemistry to create synthetic gene networks: Collins, Elowitz and Leibler.

  12. hv Says:

    How about the photosynthesis guys?

  13. Ian Says:

    This is the Nobel prize for CHEMISTRY. Biology can do one

  14. Ian Says:

    LOL @ organocatalysis – there is no way on earth they are even being considered before 2025 at the absolute earliest.

  15. Hap Says:

    Um, C60? It didn’t take all that long for that to get a Nobel (even without utility). Of course, if organocat gets one before Pd couplings, there’ll be hell to pay.

  16. European Chemist Says:

    I second Ian on Organocatalysis. Will be a looong time until it is proven Nobel-worthy and even if, too many people to be able to award a single prize (cf. same problems with cross-coupling).
    One thing that I find amazing in that field is how people who work in it are very quick to name 3 winners, while forgetting that they themselves created the “Organocatalysis bubble”, where EVERYTHING catalysed by an organic compound is termed “Organocatalysis”. This, while creating a very useful “buzzword” for Organic Chemists to attract funding with, essentially made them look quite ridiculous in their pursuit for Nobel glory, since Wynberg was already using Cinchona Alkaloids for Michael additions of sulfides in the late 1970’s, chiral phase transfer catalysts were developed to high levels of enantioselectivity in the 90’s and Denmark’s Lewis Base activation too…

  17. European Chemist Says:

    By the way, Thomson Reuters just announced their 2010 predictions. Care to compare?

  18. Jav Says:

    I guess after Thomson Reuters’ prediction you should include the MOF people: Kitagawa, Ferey, Yaghi, Robson, O’Keeffe. I’d give them a 10-1.

  19. Special Guest Lecturer Says:

    WAY too early for MOFs, particularly given the “close but not quite” levels of hydrogen storage in these materials for transportation applications.

  20. Markus Says:

    If Reuter’s is analytical and quantitative, why don’t they keep picking the same ‘quantitative’ winners each year? Surely those with lots of citations last year have even more this year. Obviously biased and if they pick enough some will eventually win…big deal

    They usually don’t even know what their citation laureates have actually done or who else in the area might have actually done it but didn’t write 2 reviews for every primary paper.

  21. sam Says:

    Paul, is it possible that the writers at the Simpsons read your blog?

  22. joel Says:

    The Nobel committee should give the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to the programmers behind the Stuxnet worm.

  23. ribo Says:

    It’s ridiculous to think that Schreiber would win for combi-chem, which (a) wasn’t really started by him and (b) hasn’t really impacted drug discovery that much. Actually many in industry would call it a failure.

    Venter will not win unless his new organisms do anything of interest in medicine or environmental concerns. Tough to give it to him for the genome since a gov’t agency also did it.

    A glaring omission (and my pick) is George Smith for phage display. 20% of the top 20 pharmaceuticals are now antibodies and it is tough to imagine small fragment antibody evolution absent phage display.

  24. Paul Says:

    @ribo: Phage display is a good one. Thanks. I’ll be sure to add it in 2011.

  25. ramana chilakamarti Says:

    My final picks for nobel prize in chemistry/physiology medicine (in no particular order)
    DNA finger printing (alec jeffreys);
    Leptin (jeff freidman et al);
    nuclear hormone receptors (pierre chambon, ron evans, bert o’malley/jensen);
    birth control pill (carl djerissi) ; microarrays (patrick brown, ron davis); lasers spectroscopy (moerner,zare);
    micro RNA (victor ambrose, garry ruvkin, baulcombe),
    tyrosine phosphorylation (tony hunter),
    Interferon jak-stat pathway ( james Darnell, george Stark, Ian Kerr);
    p53 ( arnold levine, bert vogelstein, david lane).

  26. Yonemoto Says:

    Who won’t get it, but really deserves it.

    Oka (astrochemistry)
    Kwolek/Sweeny/Dupont (Aramids)

    Even lower odds on dupont sharing the award.

    I think your DNA synthesis thing ought to be worth more. I really think that has a good shot.

  27. Yonemoto Says:

    oh crap, I didn’t see you had oka there.

  28. CRH Says:

    Wouldn’t it be interesting to see Djerassi win it now that the Medicine prize went to in vitro fertilization (Edwards). For those that can’t conceive to those that don’t want to…

  29. Yonemoto Says:

    I watched it live (honestly, I rather despise the nobel prize, but the meds that I’m on have screwed up my sleep schedule and there really is nothing else to do on a sunday night at 2am)…. And I swear, I broke out laughing so hard….

  30. Yonemoto Says:

    well, they gave the physics prize to two chemists, leaving the field open for the chemistry prize to go to biologists. I’m putting odds on Barbara Pearse. Would be a banner year for UK science.

  31. Matt Says:

    speaking of uk science … how do the odds change since the Nobel’s are making a “statement” this year about the proposed cuts in UK science funding. The award is definitely going to a Brit … and as @Yonemoto points out, it’s definitely going to go to a biologist.

  32. joel Says:

    Take a look at the invisible cat hammock in the Scientific Background for the graphene prize. Page 7.

    I have no analysis…just—wtf?

  33. joel Says:

    Corrected link: Scientific Background

  34. Paul Says:

    Yeah…odd. Sheets of hexagons don’t make me think about hammocks, either. Chicken wire and soccer nets, maybe.

  35. Matias Says:

    Well, let’s hope graphene does a bit more than buckyballs….a prize awarded decades ago that has yielded nice lubricants. wow.

  36. Kim McLaughlin Says:

    Nice one!

  37. Matias Says:

    Palladium! Good for old man Heck!
    Buchwald won’t be too happy though.

  38. Suntu Says:

    Noble metal got Nobel prize !!!

  39. chemistry Link centre Says:

    palladium can bring lot more in future

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