2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry – Liveblog

October 3rd, 2011


ChemBark’s Official List of Odds for the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

T+00:40:00 — OK, I’m signing off. Time to wipe the tears from my eyes and take a nap.

T+00:38:00 — Incidentally, Sven Lidin is very well spoken and is doing an excellent job explaining what is interesting about quasicrystals and why the discovery is important. Given the esoteric nature of the subject, Lidin’s treatment is particularly valuable.

T+00:34:00 — I think (molecular) chemists are going to feel cheated here, but the argument that this subject isn’t chemistry is untenable. The subject also falls into physics and math, but there is definitely chemistry here.

T+00:27:00 — The winner of this year’s World Series is the San Francisco 49ers. Well, I’m sure quasicrystals are deserving. I mean, they sound interesting, but I really don’t know much about them. My class in materials chemistry in grad school never touched on them. Time for some reading…

T+00:22:00 — That’s it for the presser. No phoner.

T+00:20:00 — So….who’s excited about this one? Anyone? Bueller?

T+00:17:00 — Pointed question from the press about why other contributors  were not recognized.

T+00:15:00 — The Committee can’t get Shechtman on the phone.

T+00:14:00 — Field bet paid off at 11-1. ChemBark’s string of success in chemistry predictions is snapped.

T+00:13:00 — Shechtman won the Wolf Prize in Physics in 1999 and is a Thomson Reuters citation laureate in physics.

T+00:10:00 — Crystallography never seemed so fun.

T+00:09:00 — Did I get that date right? Wikipedia is saying 1984.

T+00:06:00 — Discovery took place April 8th, 1982.

T+00:03:00 — Physics just paid us back for last year.

T+00:00:00 — Daniel Shechtman for quasicrystals

T–00:00:00 — Sven Lidin in da house!!! Inorganic?!

T–00:00:00 — Zero and holding. Here they come!!

T–00:00:00 — Nobel clock registers zeros. Where are they?

T–00:02:12 — I should have used the restroom 15 minutes ago.

T–00:03:13 — My heart is aflutter. Is this the year I finally win?

T–00:04:26 — No name tags at the podium yet.

T–00:07:00 — Pay careful attention to who walks in to explain the science. Might tip off the sub-discipline of the winner.

T–00:09:10 — TV feed is live. The press has gathered.

T–00:13:50 — I’ve tuned into the Webcast to enjoy the trance music.

T–03:22:00 — If you don’t like ChemBark, then don’t hit the “like” button on the ChemBark Facebook page.

T–03:39:00 — Please, please, please not structural biology.

T–18:53:00 — How accurate are the ChemBark community’s predictions? Well, the top 10 favorites on the 2007 list included the 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 winners of the prize in chemistry as well as the 2009 winners in medicine.

T–19:04:00 — If you’re going to pick (mp3) Jean Fréchet to win the prize, you should know that his first name is pronounced like Jean-Luc Picard, not Billie Jean King.

T–23:22:00 — From the Nobel Web site, here’s the selection committee for 2011:

Lars Thelander (Chairman)
Professor Emeritus in Physiological Chemistry

Astrid Gräslund (Member, Secretary)
Professor of Biophysics

Jan-Erling Bäckvall (Member)
Professor of Organic Chemistry

Måns Ehrenberg (Member)
Professor of Molecular Biology

Sven Lidin (Member)
Professor of Inorganic Chemistry

Who walks in the door to explain the science will be the first big clue about the winner.

T–23:43:00 — Swedish TV reporter to Schmidt: “You were one of the favorites on the betting lists. Were you expecting this call?” Hooray for betting lists.

T–23:57:00 — Does this mean Hawking won’t be winning any time soon?

T–24:00:00 — Cosmology and supernova dudes

T–24:01:30 — Tension building.

T–24:04:43 — Watching the live Web feed for the physics announcement. I’m glad the Foundation has kept their signature house-trance theme music.

— The Nobel site has the countdown clock started for physics: 3 hours and 22 minutes to go. Plenty of time for a trip to Jack in the Box.

T–29:36:00 — I’m terribly excited about this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry…so much so that I’m kicking off the liveblogging a day early. Anyway, there’s a good chance we can steal the physics prize again. Here is the time in Sweden.

41 Responses to “2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry – Liveblog”

  1. Curious Wavefunction Says:

    Is there a reason you are excited particularly about this year’s prize?

  2. Paul Says:

    Nope. I think I’ve just progressively become a more boring person, so in relative terms, the Nobel announcement is more exciting than in years past.

  3. Unstable Isotope Says:

    I tried to round up a bunch of predictions on my crappy Tumblr blog. Based on frequency of mention – Bard, Zare & Gray should be favorites.


    However, Neil Withers had a list of living chemist who have won Davy, Priestley & Wolf prize but not Nobel:

    Duilio Arigoni, Allen Bard, Allen Battersby, Carl Djerassi, Albert Eschenmoser, Harry Gray, Gabor Somorjai and Richard Zare

  4. Jay Says:

    Samorjai is sooooo out of the equation (thanks Ertl!). I go all-in with Bard.

  5. Jay Says:

    OR… given the fact that 3 of the 5 committee members are biochemists, I feel we’re gonna loose the prize to a another molecular biologist.

  6. wolfie Says:

    Sorry, I was forawhile in vacation.
    Today, I am in Ischia, al Poggio al Sole, No. 1 at Tripadvisor at Forio, ant not really bad.
    The true reason Paul is posting all of this here is, in my very humble opinion, that he will never have the chance to win any real prize. All A++++es umsonst.
    umsonst, vanity, in vain, painful, real

    never again chemistry !!!!!!

    as a business
    it is a religion

  7. Nobel Curmudgeon « Chemical Space Says:

    [...] the web seem to be pretty excited about it, including the always entertaining ChemBark who is live-blogging the event. I am sorry to say I don’t share that level of [...]

  8. See Arr Oh Says:

    What COULD Jean-Luc Picard win for? Didn’t the supernova prize just go? :)

    C’mon, bioinorganic! Seems to be a good lineup of judges for that crowd…

  9. Chemjobber Says:

    Peace, obvs. The Borg Queen didn’t kill herself.

  10. bad wolf Says:

    Pretty sure at some point Picard was talking about his family legacy and mentioned that an ancestor had won the Nobel prize in Chemistry.

  11. Paul Says:

    Jean-Luc Picard failed organic chemistry due to his being distracted by a girl. He carved her initials into a tree on the grounds of the Academy and really pissed off Boothby.

  12. Curious Wavefunction Says:

    Whenever we all get too hung up over the Nobels I can’t help but post this:

  13. See Arr Oh Says:

    @Paul, Chemjobber, Bad Wolf – You have all just risen at least 2 “pips on the collar” in my estimation.

  14. pTsOH Says:


  15. Neil Says:

    Morning Paul, morning everyone!

    To those discussing the make-up of the committee and its potential impact on the prize – the committee changes slowly, and I think these are the same as last year (and probably 4/5 the same as the year before that). I think you get a 4-year tenure on it, so I don’t think you can read anything into it at a year-by-year level.

    Not that I think it’ll win a prize this year, but does anyone have any thoughts on adding the iron pnictide superconductors to the general odds list? Hideo Hosono (Tokyo Institute of Tech) is the name I most associate with that work, but I’m sure there are others.

  16. K Says:

    I think he said it was discovered in 1982, but only published two years later, in 1984.

  17. Matt Says:

    um ….
    I love the SF Giants win the Super Bowl line

  18. Amanda Yarnell Says:

    1982 is correct. Schectman told C&EN about that day (in a story we published way back in 1999) http://cenm.ag/2i.

  19. Curious Wavefunction Says:

    I love it when these things come in from left field and bite us all on our posteriors. Not a single chemist I know had predicted Shechtman. Only underscores the diverse nature of chemistry.

  20. Paul Says:

    Thanks, Amanda. If C&EN wrote a feature on quasicrystals, then they must be chemistry.

    Next year, I will pay more attention to Wolf Prize winners in physics.

  21. Curious Wavefunction Says:

    -Physics just paid us back for last year.

    More like math.

  22. excimer Says:

    Chemists don’t learn solid-state chemistry in typical curricula; even many materials chemistry programs don’t require it with the increasing influence of soft matter (polymers, etc). But this discovery made many a head asplode 27 years ago, and isn’t that what the Nobel should really be about?

  23. Neil Says:


    It made *LINUS PAULING’s* head asplode. In my book, that’s worth a Nobel.

  24. Physics Says:

    So does this mean that a Chemist can only win the Chemistry Prize every three years. Biology gets it one and Physics gets it the other year.

  25. Ludovico Cademartiri Says:


    It has always puzzled me how solid state chemistry in the US is not part of the main curriculum of chemists… I really don’t see a logical and/or scientific reason for this.

    Linus Pauling publicly and privately derided Dan Shechtman (and vehemently so) for his claims of having discovered a new class of structures, claiming that all Dan saw was twinning.

    This very interesting article from Journal of Molecular Structure describes very well how things were back then… http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022286010001304

  26. MJ Says:

    I have to say I’m loving it. Although I would have figured quasicrystals to have ended up in Physics one of these years, and I had this recollection that there was someone else who might have been in contention for it on the more theoretical side. It’s been a while since I last thought about it, though, so I’m not sure.

    Neil – I must say I agree with the inclusion of the iron pnictides, although I’m not sure who else would be a clearly obvious choice. Clearly, on a purely discovery-oriented basis, Hosono would be a definite pick, but everyone jumped on studying them right afterwards. I know that one of the groups at NIST was basically going straight from the end of their neutron beamtime to submitting papers within a day or two, the rush was that great. I suspect that it will take a while until the topic has matured, though.

  27. Ed Says:

    As a organic chemist i was not very excited after the anouncement, but the more i read and watch about the topic and Shechtman the more i like the prize. Good Choice!

  28. cookingwithsolvents Says:

    This award is incredibly deserving and represents all that is good about perseverance in the face of “known” science (obviously it’s a twin!).

    From a “publicity for chemistry” standpoint, I’m so very, very torn on this Nobel award. I realize that’s not the prize committee’s direct job but they do often state how seriously they take these awards as publicity for science. As a somewhat experienced crystallographer that has encountered a modulated structure or two I really, really appreciate the beauty of symmetry and this science. That aesthetic is something that I think will resonate with the public. However, I’m troubled by the lack of clear-cut “your life is better because of this science” examples.

    The “for the public” document and the “scientific minds want to know” document are both very, very well-done.

    P.S. I don’t normally cover crystallographic symmetry in my UG-level class but we will cover it today.
    P.P.S. Quasicrystals structures should be at least MENTIONED in any graduate-level solid-state/materials science/inorganic structure and bonding course, IMO. Practical courses on solving structures should absolutely cover them because they are not super-rare. We just have (MUCH) better detectors now…

  29. luysii Says:

    Great stuff, but do you folks think it’s chemistry? Isn’t chemistry about reactions, transformations etc. etc? What do quasicrystals do? Even the chemistry prizes for things like ribosomal structures etc. etc. are about molecular machines which DO something.

  30. Matt Says:

    Chemistry is also about materials, and the novelty of things that don’t react, or change our notion of what chemicals can be.
    This is a great award, and I am embarrassed that I didn’t know more about this field before-hand.

  31. Curious Wavefunction Says:

    Chemistry is as much about structure (Aristotle’s first cause- “What is it?”) as about change and function (Aristotle’s second cause- “What does it do?”). Quasicrystals are relatively simple chemicals which show amazing self-assembly properties.

  32. Tim Says:

    Outside of my field, but reading the very nice article Ludovico posted made me think Alan Mackay may have been deserving of a share of the prize. He even shared the very recent 2010 Buckley Prize in Condensed Matter Physics (http://www.aps.org/programs/honors/prizes/buckley.cfm) with two others, for “pioneering contributions to the theory of quasicrystals, including the prediction of their diffraction pattern.” Strange that none of them shared the Nobel this year?

  33. Yonemoto Says:

    Shit. Quasicrystals have been discovered? And I was going to be the first one to try. I guess a Nobel prize broadcast is as good as a day in the library or on Google scholar.

  34. Yonemoto Says:

    Dude. Predicting their diffraction pattern would be fairly easy. Generate a family of them in mathematica and use the built-in Fourier transform and do class averages.

  35. Ludovico Cademartiri Says:

    @ Yonemoto. Maybe you have not realized that Mackay postulated non-crystallographic structures before computers were around… you should probably read about Mackay before dismissing his contributions of which, apparently, you know little about. May we all be lucky enough to do even a 1/100th of what he has done for science.

  36. Hap Says:

    Luysii: Buckyballs? I don’t think they could have gotten the Nobel for functionality (and they don’t give Nobels in Chemistry for hype, I think) – they were novel structures that no one else recognized. Also, deuterium might be in the same boat – I didn’t think its Nobel was given for applications.

  37. Yonemoto Says:

    Jeez ,I was being flippant. Its true I know very little about his work but I do know a lot about penrose quasiperiodic tilings since I was a math major.

  38. wolfieb Says:

    Is it not good that the Nobel Prize Committee from time to time ignores the American business approach to science and honors discoveries that really bring something unexpected and novel, or maybe strange ?

  39. wolfie Says:

    ‘Tis not due yet; I would be loath to pay him before
    his day. What need I be so forward with him that
    calls not on me? Well, ’tis no matter; honour pricks
    me on. Yea, but how if honour prick me off when I
    come on? how then? Can honour set to a leg? no: or
    an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no.
    Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? no. What is
    honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what
    is that honour? air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it?
    he that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no.
    Doth he hear it? no. ‘Tis insensible, then. Yea,
    to the dead. But will it not live with the living?
    no. Why? detraction will not suffer it. Therefore
    I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon: and so
    ends my catechism.

  40. Jay Says:

    @Hap, they the Nobel prize for deuterium only yo piss off Lewis, which influenced on his suicide…

  41. Jay Says:

    (apologies for the typos)

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