The 2010 Chemmy Award Winners, Part 2 of 2

January 20th, 2011

Let’s wrap things up with the final three Chemmy Awards for 2010.  Keep in mind, these awards are subjective as hell.  Imagine if the Nobel committee actually adhered to Nobel’s will and awarded the prize for the greatest achievements “during [just] the preceding year”.

Feel free to use the comments to call attention to other triumphs you feel worthy of recognition.


Best Paper in Biological or Organic Chemistry:  Re-engineering an Enzyme (to Make Sitagliptin)

For those unable (or unwilling) to read the full paper, Derek Lowe gave a very nice summary of it on In the Pipeline and Science published one too.  Basically, groups at Merck and Codexis were reducing a carbonyl group to a chiral primary amine to make sitagliptin, a drug for diabetes.  The catalytic hydrogenation reaction they were using wasn’t so great: the stereoselectivity was poor and the product became contaminated by the rhodium catalyst.   The chemists turned to biology, and found a transaminase that showed some activity for a modified substrate (smaller than what was needed, but still much bigger than the substrates that typically work for this enzyme).  The team then started doing mutagenesis (to the extreme) in order to screen for variants that could get the job done for the substrate.  The reaction only worked poorly at first, but the researchers were able to use computational methods and rational thought to keep moving in the right direction in their mutation/screening evolution experiments.  After a lot more work, they eventually engineered an enzyme  that was 100% stereoselective and worked under relatively high substrate loadings in water/DMSO with a simple reductant (isopropylamine).

The work is not only scientifically interesting—in terms of how you inform your approach to choose what mutations to go after, efficiently—but is also of immense practical value.  Many thanks to the commenters who nominated this paper.  And while we’re on the subject, the enzyme engineered for conducting Diels-Alder reactions was also pretty cool.


Best Paper in Physical, Inorganic, Analytical, or Materials Chemistry:  Trapped Antihydrogen

This paper (layman’s summary here) was glossed over by most chemists, but I think it’s pretty damn cool.  Antihydrogen atoms, which comprise one antiproton and one positron each, are the antimatter equivalents of hydrogen.  Antihydrogen is nothing new, but the atoms produced in accelerators always quickly collided with (and annihilated) matter…until 2010.  In November, a team at CERN reported that they could produce cold antihydrogen and, for the first time, trap it in a magnetic field.  They trapped single antihydrogen atoms for 170 milliseconds, reproducibly.  This is the first time that any antimatter has been trapped, and it’s a big step towards running experiments that can test current theories of our understanding of antimatter by measuring the energy levels in the atom and its response to electromagnetic and gravitational forces.

Do I think most people would classify this work as physics?  Yes, but it’s also of fundamental importance to chemistry.  If this paper is not chemical enough for you, maybe you can find some consolation in the fact that I almost picked Zewail’s Science report on 4-D electron tomography to win this award.


News Story of the Year:  The woeful job market for chemists

It was tempting to pick the arsenic-based life fiasco, but that story pales in comparison to the magnitude of the employment story.  The jobs scene for people involved in chemical research has been a concern all throughout the past year, and seems like it will be for all of 2011.   Pharma is shedding R&D positions like a husky blowing its coat.  In academic circles, the situation doesn’t seem as bad as it was in ’08-09 and ’09-10, but it’s still bad.  I can’t wait to go out for jobs.  Yippie.


More Coverage of the Best of 2010 in Chemistry and Science

C&EN’s Chemical Year in Review 2010
Chemistry World
Wired Magazine
Physics World
Science Magazine

24 Responses to “The 2010 Chemmy Award Winners, Part 2 of 2”

  1. ALCL Says:

    Surely you’ve got to Chemistry World in your list!

    They’re doing a chem hero thing as well:

  2. Chemjobber Says:

    “like a husky blowing its coat.”

    Now there’s a new analogy.

  3. Paul Says:

    Thanks, ALCL. CW’s story is now linked.

  4. Dr. Zoidberg Says:

    I’m right there with you on the job front. Good luck, we’re both going to need it.

  5. Pilled Says:

    Can the winners put this on their CV? The interesting part is that the transaminases developed have a really broad ketone scope.

  6. Wolfie Says:

    and what is Paul’s best papar, please ?

  7. Wolfie Says:

    I mean the situation is now quite clear. Paul judges the others but has little valuable papers himself.

    It is not all A++++. This is only to please yor teachers (or your mother).

  8. Edge Says:

    According to C&E news almost all new chem grads find immediate jobs or post-docs. The ACS reported to congress recently that increased immigration is needed to prevent a skills gap.

    This seems to be one of those renegade blogs that cannot accept good news.

  9. wolfie Says:

    I, probably, will not immigrate, although we could re-think our decision, regarding that our first-born is American, for whatever reason that may have happened.

    Discard this for moderation, please.

  10. wolfie Says:

    We, in Europe, or Germany, specifically, Berlin, have three opera houses here, more than (to my knowledge) any civilized city on God’s earth. So, why, should any civilized person want to leave his or her home country to serve an American for his or her financial goodness ? Not even in Maine is life better than it can be in the world’s new capital : Berlin !

    (remember : they have incited two world wars from there) But, Washington is a good candidate for the next one, given the arrogance and power that arises from there.

  11. Wolfie Says:

    Paul, if I ever should meet you physically, you probably’d be happy

  12. Wolfie Says:

    oder ich hau dir eins in dir Fresse

  13. Wolfie Says:

    to sex or not to be, that is the question gere (richard)

  14. Wolfie Says:

    how stupid can one person be, only to abolish oneself ?

  15. Wolfie Says:

    always, never, and ever

  16. Wolfie Says:

    said thyt he needs support. From wixes like me or himself. Let’s him free, or not, from the others

  17. Wolfie Says:

    that will never, ever, work, it’s too stupid

  18. Wolfie Says:

    because we love Stan Laurel

    who seemed like you, with great success

  19. Wolfie Says:

    Arthur Stanley Jefferson

    aka “Stan Laurel”

    was an English comic actor, writer and film director, famous as the first half of the comedy double-act Laurel and Hardy.[1] His career stretched from the silent films of the early 20th century until after World War II.

  20. Curious Wavefunction Says:

    Wolfie, get help before it’s too late son

  21. Paul Says:

    I am keeping Wolfie’s comments here, but instituting a more wide-ranging ban. Some of you might find your comments caught in the collateral damage.

  22. Wolfie Says:

    Listen, Curious, I never understood what that strange greek character meant in the Schrödinger equation; I suppose, not much; but at least, I cannot explain it. Any more questions ? Could you please explain ?

    For German career terms, I just became a professor (or private docent) of physical chemistry. Why don’t I understand what I became ???? Help.

  23. Yggdrasil Says:

    Here’s an early nominee for the 2011 Chemmy for best p-chem paper:

    Fleming et al. (2011) Kinetic Isotope Effects for the Reactions of Muonic Helium and Muonium with H2. Science 331: 448.

    A Newscientist writeup of the paper quotes a professor describing it a “very sexy nuclear chemistry.” Anything that can make nuclear chemistry sexy is good in my book.

  24. wolfie Says:

    One of the first important issues for a job is to look not unhappy, but what ?

    Look for something that makes you happy and the others, too.

    Is this an American wisdom ?

    If so, I’ve learned it there, and , what ???

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