D-Day: 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

October 5th, 2010

T+0:40:00 — Committee member says it took a long time (years) to sort out who deserved this prize.  “There are many players”.

T+0:36:00 — Excellent pick by the Nobel committee.  Now this one can be crossed off the short list.

T+0:31:00 — Press conference over.  Paging David Pendlebury.  David Pendlebury, please pick up the white courtesy phone.

T+0:29:00 — Reporter: “Why is the United States good for your research?”  Negishi:  “If you look back 50 years, America was a truly outstanding country.”  “One obvious choice [for a young Negishi]: learn English, come to this country…the dominant country of the time.”

T+0:26:00 — Reporter is asking about the true significance of this discovery to humankind.  Tough to explain in a soundbyte for laymen.

T+0:22:00 — Let’s all raise a glass to Sonogashira, Tsuji, and Kumada (among others).

T+0:17:00 — Negishi began “dreaming about this prize a half a century ago”.  “If I do something well, the prize could be a consequence of that.”  “I would like to use the prize money to further propel my research.”

T+0:11:00 — Negishi on the phone from Indiana.  Said he was called at 5 am, while sound asleep.  He was “not sure about” whether he was expecting the call, but “some people have been mumbling about that”.

T+0:10:00 — Major shoutout to the synthesis of discodermolide.

T+0:03:00 — Had a feeling when Backvall walked through the door.

T+0:00:00 — PALLADIUM!  Heck, Negishi, and Suzuki!!!!

T–0:03:50 — Here they come!

T–0:05:02 — The broadcaster is running out of material.  He keeps repeating that Ada Yonath won last year, and the previous female laureate in chemistry was Dorothy Hodgkin in 1964.  Unfortunately, no females currently listed on our rundown of odds.

T–0:08:31 — The audience doesn’t seem very excited.  Let’s get some chants going, people.

T–0:12:20 — I am going to hire this broadcaster to sing lullabies to me.

T–0:13:45 — E.J. Corey got a shoutout on the Webcast earlier.

T–0:18:50 — If you speak Swedish, you will know who won thirty seconds before I do.  I am jealous.

T–0:38:09 — The Webcast has begun.  It currently features shots of empty podiums (podia?) backed by airy techno music. 

T–2:17:59 — If you’re on the committee and want the best shot at avoiding ridicule, I’ve got to believe that the “safest” pick is palladium catalysis.  No one’s going to argue that it’s not important or that it’s not chemistry.

T–2:59:41 — I’m not the only one with Nobel fever.  Tuesday’s traffic was over five times greater than a typical day on ChemBark.

T–3:09:32 — I don’t buy into the theory that the Swedes are using this year’s prizes to make a statement about science funding in the UK, but Sir Alan Battersby is tempting at 99-1.

T–5:07:10 — Exciting!  Just over five hours to go.  You can watch the announcement here, live.

66 Responses to “D-Day: 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry”

  1. Alec Says:

    I’m imagining you doing this countdown wearing a tuxedo a la Ryan Seacrest at the red carpet.

  2. Paul Says:

  3. Anon Says:

    Everyone ready to prank-call their PIs??

  4. James Says:

    Negishi makes perfect sense, he screened so many different metals back in the late 70’s. It’s only because he had limited resources he focused on Zn – he did the Stille coupling before Stille. This was the perfect call.

  5. European Chemist Says:

    Very good call and a well overdue award.
    Really funny to hear Negishi hardly awake talking about this stuff.

  6. inside circles Says:

    Oh God, this phonecall with Negishi is cringingly awkward.

  7. Paul Says:

    VERY awkward call.

  8. European Chemist Says:

    On the other hand, Negishi must be at least 80, is not a native English speaker and has a hard time even hearing what is being asked…

  9. European Chemist Says:

    Hey Paul, Once again you got it very closely right (only forgot about Negishi).
    I wonder if Thomson Reuters had ever predicted these three fellows… Just checked their website and can’t find neither Suzuki nor Heck nor Negishi!

    A big fat “Ha!” to their predictions…

  10. GKA Says:

    According to wikipedia, Negishi is 75 (and Kumada is dead…)

  11. Mat Todd Says:

    Ages are 75, 79 and 80. Rather a change from yesterday. It’s still so clear from the media questions that the public at large do not have any idea what organic synthesis actually is. This is a problem.

  12. European Chemist Says:


    So true. And I don’t think that will necessarily change. At least with Cross-Couplings you can really tell people what changed in their life in terms of medicine and synthesis of pharmaceuticals. Try doing that with Graphene.

  13. European Chemist Says:

    Guess what? Reuters also never predicted the Medicine laureate. Seems like a big failure year for them…
    I wonder if Pendlebury will lose his job to Paul Bracher 😀

  14. Mat Todd Says:

    Strange sense of calm now that cross-couplings have been awarded. Buchwald will have to wait for the organic prize to come round again. Only about 20 years or so.

  15. European Chemist Says:

    @Mat Buchwald, Hartwig, Tsuji and Trost now have to make sure they stay healthy for the next decades indeed.
    As for the Organocatalysis people… they can start pondering their chances around 2040 😀

  16. David Pendlebury Says:

    Paul —

    Since this blog is called Chembark, it’s only appropriate that I show up with my tail between my legs. You were right on the money, including your odds. Congratulations! In fact, I have referred a few journalists to you for informed commentary. In a previous post you asked when you would have a chance to carry the ball. It’s all yours.

    Regards, David

  17. Anon Says:

    T+0:40:00 — Committee member says it took a long time (years) to sort out who deserved this prize. “There are many players”.

    Is that a euphemism for ‘sometimes we have to wait until enough people die’??

    Not that they have in this case – I wonder how/why they came down on the sides they did. And what changed in the past X years. I guess we’ll have to wait until they release the notes in 50 years or however it works.

  18. Paul Says:

    @David: You’re pure class. Cheers.

  19. Michael Walter Says:

    Paul, nice call!

    I’ve been checking the website for the last few weeks not even knowing that I could have just walked over to the BI and chatted to you about these odds…….well, now I know…..

    Nice work!

    Mike (tall guy, Lewis group)

  20. Paul Says:

    Echoing the sentiments above, that press conference was a little troubling. No one was giving the reporters a clear, concise explanation of why these individual reactions are important. The reporters were obviously frustrated, which is bad for chemistry. In this age, you’ve got to have 2 or 3 sentences ready to go for insertion into a news broadcast.

  21. Michael Walter Says:

    yes, it was awkward, especially with the guy who asked what was the significance for “human beings”……

  22. Paul Says:

    Hey Mike! You could have come over, but I am trying to use the Internet to eliminate all forms of face-to-face interaction among chemists. This way, we can cut down showering from once a week to once a month.

  23. Michael Walter Says:

    ah, perfect!

  24. Paul Says:

    These press conferences also make me feel that we won’t see any more “lifetime achievement awards” at the Nobels. The media is hungry for stories about a major discovery and why it’s important. It would not make good material to trot out a laundry list of minor discoveries whose only common thread is that the experiments were performed by the same senior scientist.

  25. El Selectride Says:

    When even the New York Times needs to refer to even the simplest of organometallic catalysts as “pixie dust,” (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/19/science/19poly.html?fta=y) you can’t really expect reporters to be satisfied with any but the simplest explanations.

    When’s the last time an “organic” Nobel prize wasn’t for Organometallics?

  26. Chemjobber Says:

    Nice, Paul — this is great!

  27. IamSPhos Says:

    Excellent choices indeed. Steve [Buchwald] must be curled up in the fetal position with his hordes of cats though, however. I think he has been waiting for all of these dudes to die so that he could get the prize. I guess there is still the stipulation that Heck needs to be tracked down in the Philippines….Sorry, Steve!

  28. Matt Says:

    Its frustrating as a chemist to watch this. The public and the main group of journalists covering science love the physics and biology people because there are so many tangible, physical “discoveries”. The problem is that chemistry is about reactivity. (Just read the story by this ass-hat: http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2010/10/2010_nobel_prizes_0) Reactivity isn’t a thing. It’s a concept, it’s an action. I’ll admit, I’ve been thinking about science writing for a long time now, especially writing about chemistry. I don’t know of any good way to approach this topic of reactivity. But, then again, I’m not a journalist. They should really be challenging themselves to do better. (Article by Martin Robbins at the Guardian covers some of it – journalistic laziness: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/the-lay-scientist/2010/sep/28/science-journalism-spoof) Maybe, as a chemist, I should work on talking about reactivity in a way that gets people interested again as well.

    Reactivity for the People!!

  29. IamSPhos Says:

    @El Selectride: I could be wrong, but methinks it was E.J. Corey.

  30. European Chemist Says:

    @El Selectride and IamSPhos
    I wonder is Olah’s prize in 1994 wouldn’t rather be a more accurate guess.

  31. GKA Says:

    There is some precedence for giving several prizes for almost the same thing (Karrer and Kuhn in 1937 and 1938, respectively, both for carotenoid work), but I really cannot see the prize being awarded a second time for transition-metal catalyzed cross-couplings as we know it today. Those who are now in “fetal position” should perhaps consider a switch to another field 😉

  32. IAmSPhos Says:

    That’s true. Forgot about Olah.

  33. A Journalist Says:

    Congratulations for your succesful betting!
    I am a journalist, I attended the press conference and yes, I am frustrated. I am in urgent need of concrete exampels, that have relevance for the general public. If you the readers of this blog know so much on the subject – can you please mention one pharmaceutical and one agrigulture product in common use today, produced with these methods?

  34. Nick Lawrence Says:

    There’s Plexxikon’s PLX4032 mutant B-Raf kinase inhibitor. That is making a big splash in oncology for malignant melanoma and making front page headlines in the NY Times. Published in Nature recently.

    At the heart of this: A Suzuki coupling. So great enabling technology that is directly impacting human health. This example is fresh and out there in the media.

    A clearly well deserved prize.

  35. Chloride Says:

    Nobody needs to be congratulated for predicting this one. Yawn. Well-deserved, guys.

  36. excimer Says:

    @IAmSPhos: The Nobel website has all your answers: http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/organic_chemistry.html

  37. excimer Says:

    …though I’d argue that conducting polymers awarded in 2000 definitely falls into the realm of organic chemistry.

  38. El Selectride Says:

    @A Journalist. The press release sez Taxol and Morphine can be made with the Heck reaction.

    Also Naproxen, which is made from the 2001 *and* 2010 Nobel Prizes.

    Just in case you can’t find it on their website: http://static.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2010/Sciback_2010.pdf

    see pages 8-10.

  39. A Journalist Says:

    Excimer: no, there is no example of any agriculture product, and just two existing pharmaceuticals, naproxen and montelukast.

  40. Jal_Frezi Says:

    The BASF agrochemical fungicide Boscalid is made using a Suzuki (Miyaura) on a 1000t/year scale.

  41. Everyday Scientist » nobel roundup Says:

    […] Paul’s liveblogging of the […]

  42. A Journalist Says:

    @Jal_Frezi: thanks a lot! That was exactly the information I was looking for.

  43. Bethany Halford Says:

    @A Journalist – the Suzuki coupling is used to make the fungicide boscalid (http://pubs.acs.org/isubscribe/journals/cen/82/i36/html/8236finechemicals.html)

  44. Anon Says:

    That ‘ass-hat’ at the Economist is back (see Matt at 4.57am):

    It’s bloody terrible. The guy knows nothing and can barely write.

  45. El Selectride Says:

    The herbicide Prosulforon® is made with the Heck reaction.

    Also the asthma drug Singulair.

    They’re both mentioned in the link I provided, as is Boscalid (already mentioned). They even have pictures with arrows pointing at the bonds formed.

  46. A Journalist Says:

    and do you know if all kind of commercial OLEDs are made with this reactions, or just new kind of blue OLEDs?

  47. Wavefunction Says:

    A particularly spectacular example of palladium in natural products synthesis is illustrated on pg. 1339 of the Clayden et al. organic chemistry book. Hegedus synthesized a natural product named clavipitic acid using not just one key Pd-catalyzed reaction but more than six. It’s the best example I know of using palladium for virtually all the key transformation in a total synthesis.

  48. CR Says:

    Holy cow batman! @A Journalist – nice bit of research you are doing. Going to a blog and asking questions; now that’s cutting edge, hard-hitting journalism at it’s finest. Do you do your reporting via Twitter?

  49. wolfie Says:

    heard this was a picture of yours


  50. Nobel Award for Chemistry | ScienceGeist Says:

    […] see more discussion about how useful these methods are, see the discussion of today’s Nobel Prize over on one of our favorite sites: […]

  51. Zac Says:

    There will soon be more synthetic antibody drugs on the market than there are drugs made using a cross coupling(there are certainly more in clinical trials now). Might be a prize for next year.

  52. David Pendlebury Says:

    Expert Nobel predictor Paul quoted in USA Today:

  53. Sharon Says:

    It’s unfortunate that it’s so difficult to concisely explain to non-chemists what this chemistry is and why it’s important, within the constrains of normal vocabulary. Apparently the physics prize is much more understandable: just take a piece of Scotch tape and a pencil, and anyone can do prize-winning physics in their own garage! Though really, you can probably do a Suzuki in your own garage, it’s that good.

  54. Aspirin Says:

    I don’t see the point in singling out Paul. *Everyone* almost without exception has been predicting this Nobel for years.

  55. Paul Says:

    I agree. Pretty much all of my picks are consensus choices, and I’m surprised no one has pointed out that Pd cross-couplings was given the third best odds (not the top slot) on this year’s list.

    That said, relative to other predictions, these are pretty good. The top half of the 2007 list has now covered all four prizes in chemistry plus one in medicine and one in peace. I think the Nobel committee in chemistry has been doing a splendid job, with the exception of omitting Somorjai.

  56. Jon Says:

    I love how much this must piss of KC.

    Could someone prank call him next year. Swedish accent and all

  57. Chemjobber Says:

    Oh, God. That’d be cruel and funny.

  58. Hap Says:

    I don’t know that Nicolaou is that unself-aware. Profs have big egos, but I would think that he can’t actually believe he’s on the short list for a Nobel. Right?

  59. Chemjobber Says:

    OK, I’ll bite: Supposedly he goes on regular tours in Europe to stump for consideration. I assume that this is one of those rumors that’s too good to check.

  60. Hap Says:

    Wow. I hope not, otherwise maybe one of the Nobel committee members needs to play out the end of Rambo: First Blood with Prof. Nicolaou – “It’s over, KC. It’s over!”

    I can’t see anyone winning a Nobel for straight total synthesis for at least twenty years, and that’s all KCN does – he doesn’t have any methodology (well, not much, even with the IBX stuff). He’s made lots of things, some in neat ways, but only recently has he done molecules that someone else couldn’t have done (or didn’t do, anyway). Making bigger things hasn’t gotten Kishi any Nobel buzz, and I don’t know why KCN would figure MTX would do so for him. I’m not really seeing what rational basis he has for thinking that he should win a Nobel, and if there isn’t one, then while he can have the cool medal and the cash, getting the Nobel won’t get him the respect from people he cares about that he doesn’t have already.

  61. European Chemist Says:

    I think that for some chemists, winning the Nobel must be like “going to the end of the road”. So I wouldn’t have a hard time imagining that Nicolaou (and many many others) see it not as a means of increasing status within the chemical world, but as a “definitive award that allows you to close shop”, while additionally gaining you the kind of global visibility no un-Nobelled chemist, no matter how good he is, can reap.

    I, for one, see the Nobel as a double-edged sword. Honestly. It is a HUGE distinction, and surely one that ANYONE in the field would love to get. But the media hype around it means that after getting one you essentially have to give up most of what should have been the main reason for starting this career: thinking, writing and advancing Science.
    Nobel Laureates typically tend to stop working on their Nobel-winning field (thus depriving Science of its most brilliant minds), feel tempted to go into completely different areas of knowledge (this is something which happens since the very beginning of the 20th century! Just check Arrhenius’ or his PChem buddies’ bios on the Cathedrals of Science book) and are looked and revered in a super-human (and honestly, not healthy) way. A Chemistry Nobel Laureate will tend to be asked for his opinion about, well, nearly anything from Politics to Religion.

    At least this is a good rationale to avoid feeling too depressed about not ever having the chance to win one. LOL 😀

  62. wolfie Says:

    Somorjai was pretty pissed off in 2007, as I heard from informed quarters. Is this a wonder when someone explains to a scientific visitor that he has published more than 800 papers, and his visitor, please, should consider this when writing recommendations for the Nobel prize ?

  63. wolfie Says:

    the Nobel Prize, still, for the coming 1000 years, will be assigned… by whom ?

    Harvard, Stanfort, Caltech or NYÜ will not be among them

  64. wolfie Says:

    I, solemnly forgot a comment to the pic

    not bad

  65. wolfie Says:

    let’s get freinds or not

  66. Paul Says:

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