Nocera to Harvard!

February 22nd, 2012

ChemBark has learned that superstar inorganic chemist Daniel Nocera is moving from MIT to Harvard. Eric Jacobsen, chairman of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard, announced the news today by e-mail:

Dear Members of the CCB Community,

I am very pleased to share some very good news: Dan Nocera, one of the world’s leading inorganic chemists and a major figure in energy-related research, will be moving with his group to our department this Fall.

During his career at Michigan State University and more recently at MIT, Prof. Nocera has done ground-breaking work in the activation of small molecules such as oxygen and water by designed inorganic complexes.  He and his group are particularly interested in finding practical ways to harness the sun’s energy, with obvious implications for global energy production and storage.  The following press release describes some of his most recent work:

The new Nocera labs will be located on the third floor of Conant, and a major renovation of that space will be taking place between now and the expected arrival of the group in the Fall.  I hope you will join me in doing everything possible to welcome the Nocera group when they arrive, and to make their move down Mass Ave as pleasant as possible.


Eric Jacobsen

For many years, inorganic chemistry at Harvard began and ended with the magnificent Dick Holm. There simply were no other true inorganic professors, and when he semi-retired, Harvard was left with a gaping hole in its faculty. For years, rumors swirled that several lucrative overtures made to inorganic professors at MIT were rebuffed. In fact, the pendulum swung so far the other way that MIT nearly poached Jacobsen from Harvard. Questions still linger over how MIT was left standing at the altar.

Nocera positions himself within a herd of inorganic chemists, possibly to avoid capture by poachers from Harvard. January 2012 – Huntington Beach, California

In Nocera, Harvard has finally purchased a star. He instantly elevates inorganic chemistry on Oxford Street to a top or second-tier program. The school also now seems in a much stronger position to solidify its program from both the top (with other senior hires like Nocera) and bottom (with junior-faculty searches specifically targeted at making inorganic hires like young star Ted Betley). It will be interesting to see how Nocera and Betley work together; Betley was a postdoc under Nocera at MIT.

So, score one for the Crimson. I hope the Nocera Group enjoys its shiny new (and historic) lab space.


Remember to follow @ChemBark on Twitter for breaking news that can’t wait for a proper full-length post on the blog. You may also read these tweets in the sidebar on the left of this page. If you have a news tip to share, please send it by e-mail. You will receive as little or as much credit as you desire.

120 Responses to “Nocera to Harvard!”

  1. Hufsnagel Says:

    Completely shifts the landscape of inorganic chemistry. Now that Dan will be taking his talents down Mass Ave, who else should he add to the roster?

  2. opsomath Says:

    The instant I hear of these kind of deals, I think of the grad students. Won’t someone consider the poor grad students?

  3. Hap Says:

    1) Well, at least the grad students and postdocs don’t have to move houses.

    2) How does MIT keep getting screwed from all this? They’ve gotten hosed with Whitesides, Sharpless, Jacobsen, and Peters. It isn’t that bad a place to work, right?

    3) The terminology of “stealing” Nocera isn’t as bad as that of “stealing” music. With Nocera, MIT loses the use of him (and his money), while with copyright, everyone who should have had the music still has it and its use, which is most of what’s implied by “stealing”. What the people whose music is copied don’t have is the control over its copying which is given them by law – the crime is far closer to trespassing (where one loses control over the people on one’s property) more than stealing (which I figure most people also consider wrong, anyway).

  4. Wavefunction Says:

    This is a great day for the Harvard chem department and a sad day for MIT. I heard Nocera give a talk last year and a lot of people think that if his water-splitting work really pans out he may be up for a Nobel Prize. MIT has always been pretty good for chemistry, but I think most people will agree that they have not been in the same league as Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley or Scripps. Engineering, math, physics, economics, biology; those are the fields where MIT has always been top-notch and there’s nothing wrong in continuing to focus on your strengths.

  5. Chemjobber Says:

    That’s really it, I think. A big organization can only be good at a few things — something’s gotta be second fiddle.

  6. bad wolf Says:

    If the grad students and postdocs don’t have to move i don’t feel sorry for them one bit (except for physically moving the lab itself, of course). The advantages of moving–better deal, new space, more money–without the disadvantages–significant other, lease, moving expenses. Anyway, nothing to compare to the epic dick move of moving your lab across the country twice in the space of 5 years.

    So the Corey labs are finally being given away? Or does he still have a space somewhere for the last few postdocs to be anointed the Next Big Thing?

  7. Lyle Langley Says:

    Inorganic chemistry? Meh…

  8. yonemoto Says:

    MIT? top notch in economics?

    I’d say nobody’s top notch in economics these days.

  9. Reflux Says:

    Wavefunction: for inorganic chemistry, MIT has historically blown Harvard and Scripps out of the water. Berkeley and Stanford are better than the first two, but I would still say MIT (with Lippard, Schrock, Cummins, etc.) is superior. In fact, currently MIT is probably the best place for inorganic chemistry in the world.

  10. Reflux Says:

    Okay, I should clarify that: with MIT’s current lineup, they are probably the best in the world, though it’s a close race between them, Caltech, and Berkeley. The departure of Nocera does leave a hole there.

  11. Nick Says:

    It might look like MIT keeps getting shafted, but look who they have kept (those mentioned above and Jamison, Movassaghi, Swager etc.). Nocera is a decent “get” for Harvard but his departure is not a death blow to MIT chemistry. Remember they could have busted the bank to keep him, so there’s a push as well as a pull. They were likely more embarrassed over Cotton sulking off to Texas A & M in the 70s.

  12. Paul Says:

    If Harvard could draft or instapoach professors from the following schools, who would be the first picks at each?

    MIT (after Nocera), Scripps, Berkeley, Stanford, Caltech, Illinois, Northwestern

  13. Hap Says:

    If Movassaghi’s wife is in the UK, though, they may lose him, too. I would agree that it’s not a death blow, more like an embarrassment. If he were younger, it might hurt more, too.

  14. Nick Says:


    Synthetic fantasy draft: Fu, Baran, Bertozzi, DuBois, Barton, M.C. White (just kidding…Denmark), Mirkin. Kinda obvious I know…others might be Bielawski and Krische (UT), D-Mac (Princeton), Stahl (UW).

  15. Paul Says:

    My initial guesses:

    MIT – Cummins; Scripps – Baran; Berkeley – Bertozzi; Stanford – Moerner; Caltech – Lewis; Illinois – Tough choice; Northwestern – Mirkin

  16. Paul Says:

    @Nick: Fu counts as Caltech property. Seems like Stahl and Sanford will get offers they can’t refuse sooner or later.

  17. Nick Says:

    @Paul – your list is better. Didn’t know about Fu – is that scuttlebutt or solid news? Agree about Sanford and Stahl, although the latter just turned down big $$$ from Yale.

  18. Chemjobber Says:

    Coastal universities to Midwestern department chairs: suck it.

  19. Paul Says:

    Fu’s move is solid.

    Incidentally, this sort of news is stuff that C&EN completely avoids and shouldn’t—it is fascinating.

  20. James Says:

    @Paul, you are the Matt Drudge of chemistry journalism, and for that you have a place in people’s hearts that C&EN does not.

  21. Karl D Collins Says:

    Would you take any UK based chemists given the choice?

  22. anon Says:

    i can think of several UK based chemists i’d love them to take…

  23. See Arr Oh Says:

    RE: UK chemists – decisions often revolve around time it takes for young faculty to move their whole program across the pond. Off the top of my head? Marder, Polly Arnold, maybe Matt Gaunt? We’ll dub it the New(er) Wave…

    RE: Poaching – Where’s the love for the MOF and materials crew? You mentioned Mirkin, but what about Yaghi, Cheetham, or Wenbin Lin? Has Harvard ever poached an industrial guy (like a Dow/BASF / DuPont catalysis chemist?)

  24. AD Says:

    I’ve heard from an MIT post-doc that the atmosphere in the Chemistry department is pretty toxic; the professors pretty much can’t stand each other. Not sure how true that is.

  25. Chemjobber Says:

    That’s something that I don’t really understand about intradepartmental politics at large departments — what is there to fight about? How often do they even see each other?

    (Of course, there’s the classic resource wars about lab space. Those are enough, I suppose.)

  26. Nick Says:

    UK chemists – Polly Arnold, Steve Ley, David Leigh, Simon Aldridge, Ben Davies, Jonathon Clayden, David Spring.

    MOF/Mat crew – Cheetham is back in Cambridge (UK).

    Industrial/Harvard – Eugene Rochow?

  27. Chemjobber Says:

    By the way, what happened to Ed the dog?

  28. Rh Says:

    As a current MIT grad student, I would say the atmosphere varies between divisions (org, inorg, bio, phys). That said, in every division and in the department in general there are professors who are buddies and some who are pretty frosty toward each other. Most are somewhere in between.

    It’s possible that the perception of the postdoc in question might be skewed somewhat by the atmosphere of their group; like most other departments, there are a couple here that aren’t so great.

    And yes, Fu’s definitely going to Caltech.

  29. Paul Says:

    @CJ: For his failure to recruit enough Facebook likes, Ed was shipped to a pharmaceutical company and enrolled in a toxicology study. In his absence, his duties have been assumed by Orgo Bunny, DZ Penguin, Orby the Insect, Math Chick, and Jackie Jaws, the jaded JACS referee.

  30. Karldcollins Says:

    @Nick Well I am hoping David Leigh is not up for poaching as he starts in Manchester in September and he is getting just about a whole floor of the chemistry department.

  31. Nick Says:

    Thanks Karl – I learn so much news here!

    Will MIT enter/create the market for Nocera 2.0?

  32. wolfie Says:

    Of course, it will not be like that. But, whoever was at Harvard, could deny it ?

    Disclaimer : The author is not, and does not plan, to invest in any stocks of Harvard University.

  33. wolfie Says:

    I ‘ve been there only once in my life – and they were all so nervous !

  34. Matt Says:

    Isn’t it obvious … MIT is going to go after Jonas Peters. It’s the only acceptable response. 😉

  35. Paul Says:

    If I were Sylvia Ceyer (MIT), here’s the list of juicy young chemists I’d target to replenish my ranks:

    For Fu’s slot:
    Melanie Sanford (Michigan)
    Shannon Stahl (Wisconsin)
    Christina White (Illinois) with a Marty Burke double bonus factor

    For Nocera’s slot:
    Ray Schaak (Penn State)
    Tom Mallouk (Penn State)

  36. Hap Says:

    1) Wonder if MIT could steal Hartwig again (but only if they can get a good deal on an electronic bracelet)? I don’t think he’s probably in this class, but would they think about Micalizio at Scripps Florida? (Another might be Knochel). If they were looking total syn, they might poach Garg at UCLA or Herzon at Yale.

    2) Paul – Did you see Eschenmoser’s review in ACIEE (2011, p. 12412)? What did you think of it?

  37. Lila Says:

    Not my decision at C&EN about our covering/not covering big-name movers, but when I worked at the Chronicle of Higher Education, we had a weekly column on just this topic. It was basically the Chron’s gossip column (with a silly name to boot: Peer Review). If memory serves, it got more complaints than any other part of the newspaper. I don’t think they run the feature anymore.

  38. James Says:

    @Paul – I think both Schaak or Mallouk would make great targets, however I wouldn’t consider Mallouk young or juicy lol

  39. Absolutezero Says:

    Schaak is good, but not MIT good. Penn State is just about right. Mallouk might be moving to Yale.

  40. James Says:

    @absolutezero – I’m sure somebody said that about Nocera when he went from Michigan State to MIT in 1997. But hey everyone is entitled to their opinion.

  41. joel Says:

    Why not Nate Lewis (CalTech) or Peidong Yang (UC-Berkeley) for Nocera’s slot? I know the entire world thinks Nocera invented photocatalytic water splitting—how could they not considering the savvy media push— but there are many people out there doing some decent work. Especially on the new materials side.

  42. Paul Says:

    @joel: My assumption is that MIT could not keep pace with Harvard’s offer, so I think they’d have a hard time prying Lewis from Caltech. Given the awful finances of the state of California and the UC system in particular, I imagine that now is a great time to poach from Berkeley. So, excellent recommendation in Yang.

    @Hap: I have not read all the way through Eschenmoser’s paper—it is massive—but I saw him give a talk on the nucleic acid part. I think the subject is really interesting and his work is thorough and valuable. With that said, my focus with respect to the OoL has not centered on RNA/DNA systems. My hunch is that they are too delicate to have been there first.

  43. Paul Says:

    …and that is why Eschenmoser’s work is valuable (in looking at simpler systems), but again, my focus lies elsewhere.

  44. Paul Says:

    @Lila: I don’t understand why C&EN or The Chron would avoid these subjects or allow themselves to be bullied out of writing such a column.

    Why is it “news” when Bloomberg reports that the CTO of Google is leaving to become CEO of Yahoo, but “gossip” when The Chron reports that an inorganic chemist is moving from MIT to Harvard?

    Why is it “gossip” when a chemistry blog reports that a school is fumbling a case of rampant data fabrication, but an “investigative report” when 60 Minutes exposes fraudulent manipulation of data in a medical study?

    I wish I knew someone on the advisory board of C&EN to relay these concerns to the editors. Stories like Nocera’s move are legitimate news!

  45. joel Says:

    @Paul: The budget crunch in the UC’s has not significantly impacted Berkeley’s retention rate. Sure, Ellman went to Yale and Frechet retired to KAUST. But they acquired Hartwig AND Yaghi.

    Isn’t Ann McDermott (Columbia) also moving to Harvard?

    In a draft, I would take Nate Lewis in this field any day, but he probably has no reason to move.

  46. Paul Says:

    He went here as an undergrad, is building the JCAP DOE hub on campus to his personal specs, and established himself at the school as probably the most respected chemist in the field of solar energy research. I can’t see him moving anywhere any time soon.

  47. joel Says:

    Agreed. Lewis is one of the great role models in this field.

  48. EC Says:

    @Paul: for someone who works in Europe, I can’t think of any other ways I’d know about these moves if it weren’t for your blog. Keep up the good work – and yes, a publication such as C&EN should be covering these things… perhaps you could offer that suggestion to Chemistry Views?…

    (kinda sad to have read a single name – Knochel – from a country other than the UK in the “talent” suggestions here… no love for synthetic chemists in Switzerland, Germany or Netherlands?)

  49. See Arr Oh Says:

    @EC – Did I miss something? Are Furstner, Reetz, Feringa suddenly on the table? : )

  50. Lila Says:

    Hey Paul, I don’t think anyone “bullied” C&EN or the Chron about moves. I don’t have a long history at C&EN (only 2 years) but I don’t know that the magazine ever covered such news. I’ll ask.

    As for the Chron — where I had a longer history (9 years) — it’s undergone massive restructuring in the years since I was laid off. I can’t say why they stopped publishing Peer Review — they also stopped publishing Short Subjects, which was among the most-read sections but also provoked lots of complaints. I seriously doubt it was because they were bullied. The Chron is a family-owned company and can make decisions (such as laying off one of its two full-time science writers) based on managers’ judgment, not on reader or advertiser reaction. I would hesitate to read too much into the decision to stop publishing one or another feature.

    And just to clarify: it was I who characterized Peer Review as a gossip column. That’s how I saw the column — a place readers could turn when they wanted to know the latest gossip about new alliances or who was courting whom.

  51. Paul Says:

    I’m just saying that what you expressed here seems, to me, to be a widely held view. When anyone starts writing about professors’ jobs or mistakes, the area is “gossip”. It’s something I’ve noted before for chemistry blogs, and it was interesting to hear that mainstream outlets face the same sort of bogus criticism and pushback from readers.

  52. Lila Says:

    Yeah, I think there’s a presumption in some scientists’ (and some journalists’) minds that the *people* who do science don’t matter. The whole aura of objectivity, etc etc.

    But the people *do* matter — experiments don’t happen on their own and ideas don’t come from the ether — and their stories are part of the story of science.

  53. Paul Says:

    Exactly. What I would consider actual gossip is when the story has little or nothing to do with the professor’s job, like posting home addresses or profiles.

  54. Chemjobber Says:

    The issue comes with the natural speculation as to why the move is occurring. While a 2-body problem may be no one’s business, bad intradepartmental relations may be worth discussing.

  55. Jyllian Says:

    C&EN does write about academic chemist “CEO”-level moves, e.g.:
    – Marye Anne Fox moving from chancellor of North Carolina State to UCSD (
    – Holden Thorpe becoming chancellor at UNC (
    – Michael Marletta taking over at Scripps (

    And the ACS News section of the magazine includes announcements of other job changes. In our Dec. 12 issue, we had some from each of academia (, business (, and other organizations (

  56. You're Pfizered Says:

    I love that his contact information is still his MIT EMAIL.

  57. Paul Says:

    @Jyllian: I’ve seen those little announcements in the ACS News section and they appear of no more importance than the legal notices one finds in the classified section of a local newspaper. To merit a longer story, it seems that a chemist must ascend to the top position at a university. Still, what burns me up about these longer stories is how little insight they offer. Almost invariably, you’ll see some quotes lifted from a press release, then a smattering of other quotes that are always glowing. I want to know what went on behind the scenes. Was it an obvious decision? What are the implications of a school’s selection of a chemist? What does the person plan to do with his research program? Is anyone ticked off about the move?

    And it seems that C&EN practically never covers professorial movement in detail. If the magazine passes on the Nocera story, then I can’t imagine there is *any* move that could generate enough excitement with the editors to motivate them to cover it. It’s a pity, because there are a lot of interesting issues at play. What does it take to lure someone like Nocera? Does Nocera plan to shift the direction of his research? Is he worried about the historic lack of “bulk” in the inorganic division at Harvard? What does Nocera’s move mean for the giant E.J. Corey, who currently occupies the third floor of Conant? How does a move like this affect graduate students and postdocs? Are they compensated? One could write a four-page story…and I think people would read it.

  58. Curious Wavefunction Says:

    Anyone know anything about the prolific Ken Dill moving from UCSF to Stony Brook? I am assuming it was because he was offered the opportunity to head up an entire new research center.

  59. Chemjobber Says:

    Paul, would there be a single person at Harvard who’d be willing to comment on all of those interesting issues on the record?

  60. Paul Says:

    I imagine Nocera and Corey would be willing to talk about what they are doing next. Someone might be willing to discuss things like moving expenses for grad students. For the specific financial details of the offer, no way are you going to get an on-the-record source, but that doesn’t concern me. I am much more interested in getting the facts right, and seeing as how many of these details leak without a reporter to help things along, I think the mag would stand a decent chance of finding reliable confidential sources.

  61. Golden State Says:

    “# Reflux Says:
    February 24th, 2012 at 5:36 AM

    Okay, I should clarify that: with MIT’s current lineup, they are probably the best in the world, though it’s a close race between them, Caltech, and Berkeley. The departure of Nocera does leave a hole there.”

    With four superstars under the age of 50 in Bertozzi, Hartwig, Yaghi, and PD Yang, it seems that UC Berkeley has positioned itself at the very top of the chemistry ranking at least for the next 10 years. It is likely that Berkeley will take over the top spot in Inorganic Chemistry ranking from MIT due to Nocera’s departure.

  62. Hap Says:

    Under 50’s, though, are more likely to move – and while UC-Berkeley still seems to be the crown jewel of the UC system, at some point, those funding cuts are going to hurt. (On the other hand, the UCs still have a lot of good people, and since (at least) Reagan CA’s been destroying its educational system, so maybe this point is overrated).

  63. Jyllian Says:

    Paul, we actually did run longer pieces on the three biggies I mentioned. Those stories might not answer all of your questions, but they definitely get at some:
    – Fox:
    – Thorpe:
    – Marletta:

    If we were to run stories such as you suggest on professor moves, how far down the pecking order of universities should we go? Which professors are (not) important enough? Does it focus too much researchers rather than talented educators? What about below-C-level moves in industry, government, or elsewhere?

  64. Golden State Says:

    Obviously, the California heavyweights emerged as the biggest winners in this recent wave of Chemistry poaching musical chairs. Even with its relatively small size, Caltech added to its already superb Chemistry faculty the number 43 ranked Greg Fu (Top 100 Chemists by Thomson Reuters) as well as Jonas Peters (and his wife). Caltech could seriously challenge Harvard for its strong hold in Organic Chemistry ranking. In addition to adding the number 85 John Hartwig last year, UC Berkeley succeeded again by recruiting Omar Yaghi, the second-ranked chemist in the world. Now Berkeley has three of the top 10 chemists (#2 Yaghi, #5 Alivisatos, #10 PD Yang), a position no other school comes close. Of course MIT is the biggest loser- no doubt about that. The latest back-stabbing by Harvard to steal away Dan Nocera sends MIT Chemistry to a rapid downward spiral, and to the brink of collapse. It is true that California funding cuts will hurt the UC system and the higher education in general, including Stanford and Caltech, but it seems the abundant sunshine more than makes up for that.

  65. Paul Says:

    @Jyllian: That’s what I mean: in order to merit the news-of-the-week stories and the follow up pieces, it seems you must be hired as a university’s president/chancellor. I am more interested in the lateral moves between chem departments. I can’t recall C&EN ever devoting a feature to one move in particular or those types of moves as a class.

    In terms of how far down the pecking order one goes, I imagine the situation is analogous to the subjective manner in which editors must decide what papers to report. It seems that moves between top-tier departments would be prime candidates, just as papers in Science and Nature are prime candidates for NOTW. I can also offer a short Potter-Stewartesque assessment of moves that should be or should’ve been covered:

    Nocera (MIT to Harvard): C&EN has got to write a story about this one. It just has to. Nocera is a superstar chemist working on the greatest technological challenge of our time and he is shuffling between two top-tier departments after a long courting process. He is also something of a polarizing personality in the world of chemistry, as some chemists hold cynical views of his forays into the business world and the world of popular(izing) science. If C&EN doesn’t want to devote a story to the move itself, the mag could at least profile him. It would be fascinating.

    Hartwig (not Yale to Illinois, but definitely Illinois to Berkeley): ?

    Peters (maybe Caltech to MIT, but definitely MIT to Caltech just two years later): ???!

  66. wolfie Says:

    Just you wait, ‘enry ‘iggins, just you wait!
    You’ll be sorry, but your tears’ll be to late!
    You’ll be broke, and I’ll have money;
    Will I help you? Don’t be funny!
    Just you wait, ‘enry ‘iggins, just you wait!
    Just you wait, ‘enry ‘iggins, till you’re sick,
    And you scream to fetch a doctor double-quick.
    I’ll be off a second later And go straight to the the-ater!
    Oh ho ho, ‘enry ‘iggins, just you wait!
    Ooooooh ‘enry ‘iggins!
    Just you wait until we’re swimmin’ in the sea!
    Ooooooh ‘enry ‘iggins!
    And you get a cramp a little ways from me!
    When you yell you’re going to drown I’ll get dressed
    and go to town! Oh ho ho, ‘enry ‘iggins!
    Oh ho ho, ‘enry ‘iggins! Just you wait!
    One day I’ll be famous! I’ll be proper and prim;
    Go to St. James so often I will call it St. Jim!
    One evening the king will say:
    “Oh, Liza, old thing,
    I want all of England your praises to sing.
    Next week on the twentieth of May
    I proclaim Liza Doolittle Day!
    All the people will celebrate the glory of you
    And whatever you wish and want I gladly will do.”
    “Thanks a lot, King” says I, in a manner well-bred;
    But all I want is ‘enry ‘iggins ‘ead!”
    “Done,” says the King with a stroke.
    “Guard, run and bring in the bloke!”
    Then they’ll march you, ‘enry ‘iggins to the wall;
    And the King will tell me: “Liza, sound the call.”
    As they lift their rifles higher, I’ll shout:
    “Ready! Aim! Fire!”
    Oh ho ho, ‘enry ‘iggins,
    Down you’ll go, ‘enry ‘iggins!
    Just you wait!

  67. Nick Says:

    @Golden State:

    “The latest back-stabbing by Harvard….. sends MIT Chemistry to a rapid downward spiral, and to the brink of collapse.”

    The brink of collapse? That’s a joke, right? A funny joke.

  68. MJ Says:

    CW – That’s basically all I know about the Dill move to Stony Brook as well. I suppose the connections to Brookhaven National Lab and IBM Research (the Watson Center in the greater NYC area has a fair number of people interested in biophysics) didn’t hurt.

    joel – McDermott to Harvard? If true, that’s gotta hurt Columbia. And the NYSBC, given that part of the impetus was to keep researchers in the NYC area.

  69. wolfie Says:

    no, just the truth

  70. JH Says:

    What most people forget is that UC-Berkeley Chemistry has an additional mega-source of funding for new hires in Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. The budget woes in California have done almost nothing to the hiring practices of that department. Sadly, the janitorial services cannot say the same. Since 2008 they have actually accelerated their hiring in the department.

  71. Hap Says:

    The federal government has been fiddling with the national labs though (as in the pillaging of the Tevatron). LBNL is probably better off, but its funding is probably not as much of a lock as before (though its defense stuff should help a lot).

    I wouldn’t have assumed that the CA budget issues would have hurt professorial hiring (and probably not grad students), but if funding cuts make it harder to get things done (by paring support staff or infrastructure), it would seem to be a problem. They also might hurt other schools in the UCs, particularly UCI and UCSB, both of which seem to be growing very good chem departments. In the long run, it may hurt the development of business in those areas by limiting the numbers of educated people around to work there or who want to bring kids there from somewhere else, and since that is one of the drivers of CA’s economy (and the US’s), it won’t bring good fruit to any of the UCs (or more directly, CA).

  72. RSantorum Says:

  73. BurnedThatBridge Says:


  74. bad wolf Says:

    It looks like the old media vs new media argument all over again. Paul is right that this is the sort of information that readers in the field would be/are interested in; Jyllian’s magazine apparently believes itself above such things. However, CEN has no real obligations to entertain or even interest their readership, since the magazine is just sent automatically to all ACS members. When i tried to keep my membership and cancel CEN, i was told that was impossible. So while i get most of the news (and real, serious investigation such as the Sheri Sangji case, not just mere gossip) from Chembark, Chemjobber, or In the Pipeline, another copy of CEN arrived today and will probably remain in its plastic bag.

    Most old media has at least discovered that keeping things lively with infotainment at least pays the bills for ‘serious’ journalism. CEN has a captive audience and neither entertains nor informs.

  75. Paul Says:

    I am glad that C&EN exists, but I do wish it would have a little more guts in what it is willing to cover. I know that there are many different types of readers in the society, but I don’t think it is too difficult to see what the academic readership wants: basically, what one finds colleagues talking about in the hallways…did you see that paper? did you hear ____ is moving to _____ (or working on ______)? how is the grad school/postdoc/job search going? be careful working with that compound…

    C&EN hits some of this info while it misses a lot of it. But, like you said, that’s why/how blogs can exist and get so much traffic. The chemical blogosphere ignited when C&EN was so inexcusably out to lunch on the Bengu Sezen case.

    In my mind, the main thing that C&EN fails to capture that is such an integral part of hallway discussion is opinion. It is nice to report the essential details of a new paper, but what people crave is context and analysis. I am not an expert in the chemistry of graphene. I don’t know the central issues at play, what people get right/wrong, and what makes a good/bad paper. All you see in C&EN, for the most part, are generically positive quotes about every single paper it covers. I’d like to see some papers (or elements of some papers) get torn apart in the pages of C&EN the way they do in the hallways of academia. Yeah, you’re probably not going to get professors to give negative quotes on the record, but so what? Let the staffer gather anonymous opinion and make a substantiated analysis. This sort of coverage—where both the good and bad aspects of papers are highlighted, not just the good—will be much more interesting and lead to a much more informed readership. It would also generate a lot more secondary analysis in the form of discussion in comment threads and the like.

  76. Paul Says:

    …BUT, it will take guts on the part of the magazine, because these changes are sure to ruffle some feathers. They’ll have to put up with people like “RSantorum” (above) communicating their disdain for the new style of coverage.

    I could go on, but I’ve been saying this stuff forever, and I don’t expect significant change to happen anytime soon. I think the most effective way to convince the editors that this approach has merit is for blogs to prove that it does. And, for the most part, that is exactly what one sees. Traffic, Twitter followings, and other metrics of interest seem to be steadily increasing for chemistry blogs. It’s also interesting to note that the discussion generated on chemistry blogs—most of which is thoughtful—generally outpaces that found on the C&EN site and the CENtral Science site as well. Why is that?

  77. Rhenium Says:

    Where was the photo from?A Gordon conference?

  78. Nick Says:

    No, Nocera’s new office.

  79. Paul Says:

    The pic was taken at the annual retreat for an NSF center.

  80. JJ Says:

    The best inorganic chemist is Guy Bertrand at UCR. He has more Science papers than all the professors at Harvard and MIT together.

  81. eugene Says:

    In other news, I’m still credulous at this stupid chemistry culture of elevating the group leader, especially when they are a full professor. This is the time when they are really busy and they really do not know any more about chemistry then their senior graduate students and postdocs. The only advantage they have is that they are older and have read more older papers and might have access to them in their memory. Other than that, their status is reward for past work and current administrative ability in keeping a group together, motivating students, and getting grants and not for current ability in science. If Nocera moved to the University of Nowhere his research would suffer because he couldn’t get as many good and really motivated students, who while working on what he suggested managed to discover lots of interesting things on the side. Moving to Harvard is safe.

    It seems that early Nobel prizes were rewarding people for doing their own work, and now they are rewarding just the top member of a large team, but the public doesn’t recognize it and the other team members get no benefit. Well…. at the latest free food thing for my boss’ latest prize he did mention it was to the entire group, and the free food was pretty tasty, so I guess we sort of got rewarded a bit.

    Maybe the prize could be awarded to the whole group at the outset and would come with research funds. So the Nobel means no personal cash, but a million bucks in research funds and same for all the others. Then we wouldn’t talk about Nocera’s move to Harvard so much either because he would not be elevated to demi-god status among all the chemistry nerds. Unless he appears in the next comment and tells me how his water splitting cobalt catalysis really works (and it turns out to be right) and says that he had the mechanism in his mind when he told his graduate student to try it, then I will worship him as a demi-god.

  82. Special Guest Lecturer Says:

    Wow, so the Nobel Prize given in the form of research funds would be the equivalent of getting a grant from the DOE.

    Maybe the Nobel Foundation would have enough clout to demand that no overhead be charged from the prize!

  83. eugene Says:

    Yeah, that was the stupid practical suggestion part of my comment… I guess I should have left it out. I was more against the ‘spirit’ of treating academics as superstars. If Nocera wants to move to Harvard he should decide to do it because he thinks it’s better for the type of research he does, for his students and postdocs, and for him as a teacher. I’m sure that’s mostly what he thought about actually (and this is good info for both profs and students since these moves are a reality and we want to know how it affects us)… and all this hype about shadowy backroom deals, big checks and Lamborghinis is created by the chemistry blog nerd community.

    Which, I sincerely hope doesn’t go to any young professors’ heads in the future. Not only will you be vastly overestimating your ‘coolness factor’ with society at large, but you should focus on the science and your job please.

  84. h Says:

    Given the current hiring trend, there will be fewer and fewer young professors as their academic career prospects get gobbled up by established PIs.

    How many students do you think a PI can effectively mentor?

    Call me an academic Mathusian, but I put this number at ~5. I’d be interested to hear what other people think….

  85. h Says:

    @eugene: Whenever i contemplate my boss’s demigod status, i remember the time we were at a restaurant and the Boss got screamed at by a waitress. For a moment I was thinking ‘Do You Know Who You Are Talking To?’….then I realized she wouldn’t give a shit anyway. It was a real humanizing moment for both of us.

  86. Anonymous Says:

    Eugene ! Eugene ! HE has been reactivated !

  87. Paul Says:

    …all this hype about shadowy backroom deals, big checks and Lamborghinis is created by the chemistry blog nerd community.

    @eugene: No it isn’t. First, who is talking about Lamborghinis, anyway? Second, it takes money to move a professor. This money doesn’t necessarily factor into salary, but also into things like renovations, instrumentation, and second start-up funds. That said, I imagine most professors who are poached end up making higher salaries. So, basically, money is a big deal in these moves whether the blog community says they are or not. And finally, these discussions are “backroom deals” by their very nature. Does any department just step out in the open and say, “Hey, we’re going to recruit Nocera and here’s what we’re offering”?

  88. wolfie Says:

    Organics make it all, but never to Ferrari.

  89. Chemjobber Says:

    Sorry, Paul, I was the chemistry blog nerd talking about Lamborghinis. As I recall, it was “group access to a university-owned Lamborghini Countach.”

    I don’t think that intradepartmental moves are anywhere near as dirty of a sideshow as college football (which is what my satirical post was based on.) That said, I think it’s naive to believe that there’s no such thing as academic superstars and using dollars and prestige as lubrication.

  90. DW Says:

    @JJ: After I examined what you said about the Science papers for the inorganic chemists, I found you are right that Nocera has disproportionately few high impact papers throughout his career and is not highly cited. Why is he a superstar inorganic chemist then? Is he one of those well-connected political animals who are famous for making themselves famous? In your opinion, is Guy Bertrand or Nocera the best inorganic chemist in the world? Are they the most likely inorganic chemists to win the next Nobel Prize? Are there any other inorganic chemistry professor with more Nature and Science papers, higher citations, or more highly regarded? I wish to study Inorganic Chemistry in America someday. Please advise.

  91. JJ Says:

    @DV: First of all let me assure you that I very much respect the work of Prof. D.N. and that I have absolutely no connection with Prof. G.B. (I have never worked for him or with him). I just read B.’s impressive research. Also, let me mention that I wrote this comment not because I wanted to compare inorganic chemists, but just because I dislike groundless celebrity systems. I don’t know if it is the connections that make such a system and it’s not my concern to answer this question. I really value it though when somebody becomes highly visible purely as a result of his high impact work. It is not easy to have inorganic work accepted in Science or other high impact journals (it is easier for biochemistry and medicinal chemistry). The work has to be distinguished, and it will undergo reviews from people of different backgrounds, not just inorganic chemists. Citations as you mention are another measure. I know an inorganic professor with around 200 total publications and over 5,000 citations and at the same time I know celebrity inorganic professors with three time more publications but not even 1,000 citations. Finally, let me tell you that I believe a fairer system of reviewing articles would be one where authors’ names remain undisclosed (celebrity professors get their articles much easier published…) and also a better way to study citations would be one where self-citing papers are excluded. Sorry for not having direct answers to your questions, but I hope my way of thinking helps.

  92. Hap Says:

    Making paper authors anonymous would be nice but tough – some profs have pretty obvious writing styles (GMW, KCN) while others have characteristic topics (if you got a paper on maitotoxin synthesis, how long would it take you to figure out who the author was?). It would work better with younger professors, but even then (VanDerWaal and Zincke reactions or products, for example) it might be hard to do.

    Removing self-cites wouldn’t be bad, and would be easier to do, though.

  93. Nick Says:

    “Are there any other inorganic chemistry professor with more Nature and Science papers, higher citations, or more highly regarded?”

    @DW – there are 6-8 in the picture above.

  94. Alfie Noakes Says:

    Maybe good to look at Nature Chemistry instead: the top by number of pubs are:

    Champness(5), Morris(5), Armstrong(4), Cronin(4), Fujita(4), Gray(4)

    Interesting, Chapness, Morris and Cronin are all UK. How about these to the US?

  95. wolfie Says:

    What is Nocera’s Hirsch index ?? Mine is 23 !

  96. Special Guest Lecturer Says:

    I also don’t understand the complaints of Nocera (or others) being anointed as superstars. Chemistry needs superstars – and Nocera, Bertozzi, Whitesides, Grubbs, etc aren’t at all famous by cultural standards. I’d be happy to see these folks get more credit and admiration, not less. Such admiration takes away nothing from their students working in the labs – everyone knows these folks are the CEO equivalents. It’s not easy staying at the cutting edge – competition is brutal.

  97. Ason Says:

    Perhaps the top pubs in Nature Chemistry are from the UK because few university libraries in the US have an online subscription? Some of us can only read articles >1 year old using Academic Search Complete. My university doesn’t have a paper copy(!)…but that might be because we are in a battle with the McMillan publishing house.

    Also, We don’t need more superstars, just more/better communicators.

    For example, Carl Sagan was no slouch in the field of astronomy, but he wasn’t at the cutting edge of the field like many of his peers. And while some of his colleagues probably sniped at him for becoming a celebrity, his largely benevolent personality garnered him much respect, and he was able to elevate the status of an entire field.

    Is there anyone like that in chemistry?

  98. wolfie Says:

    NO. Because they have to publish now, that 97% yield are always normal.

  99. wolfie Says:

    Listen, I still have an entry on, although it is more tham fove years old, and you have not.


    so much to the actuality of the United States of America

  100. See Arr Oh Says:

    Y’know, Paul, with just 3 more comments (2 now!), you could be the proud owner of a 100-comment thread, a white rhino / dodo / male calico in this chem blog universe!

  101. In Praise of CEN: Harran and Comments | ChemBark Says:

    […] that I read from cover to cover. When I criticize C&EN, whether for harping on a subject, or not covering a story, or publishing error-riddled pictures, it is because I […]

  102. Numbers don't lie Says:

    @Wolfie-Listed below are chemistry superstars mentioned in this forum and their essential statistics. It’s easy to see where Prof. Nocera stands against his own peers.
    Data taken from Web of Science as of today.

    H: Hirsch Index
    N+S: Sum of Nature and Science papers (only Nature, not Nature something)
    C: Sum of times cited without self-citations
    C/P: Average citations per paper

    Hartwig, JF: H: 86; N+S: 9; C: 20226; C/P: 78
    Yaghi, OM: H: 84; N+S: 17; C: 39587; C/P: 251
    Fu, GC: H: 69; N+S: 0; C: 16962; C/P: 96
    Swager, TM: H: 63; N+S: 3; C: 14825; C/P: 53
    Bertozzi, CR: H: 62; N+S: 6; C: 13376; C/P: 56
    Moerner, WE: H: 60; N+S: 12; C: 12449; C/P: 63
    Nocera, DG: H: 55; N+S: 6; C: 8693; C/P: 38
    Bertrand, G: H: 54; N+S: 13; C: 13953; C/P:14
    Peters, JC: H: 46; N+S: 0; C: 7969; C/P: 33
    MacMillan, DWC: H: 45; N+S: 7; C: 8012; C/P: 105

  103. JJ Says:

    H-index includes self-citations and as a result it is a very unreliable factor for comparing impact (some people on purpose cite not their correct, but a-similar-to-correct, not much cited, article to increase its H-index. I like as factors C and S+N. Does C/P include self-citations?

  104. eugene Says:

    Sorry for disappearing for a while. I didn’t know my comment would generate so much interest when it was in the high 80s on the thread. But now See Arr Oh has posted on it… so I’ll try to explain myself there after I meet with a really famous chemist today. I noticed today that I was in trouble for the comment after seeing Chemjobber’s post on it.

    Come on Paul, I often only check In The Pipeline and Chemjobber now because they post every day. If you want me here more often than once in two weeks, you’ve got to step up! And I mean that in the humblest way possible…

  105. eugene Says:

    “Such admiration takes away nothing from their students working in the labs – everyone knows these folks are the CEO equivalents.”

    Actually, no, almost nobody knows that they are CEO equivalents. When my boss recently won a famous prize and the papers came to take his pictures, they had him go in the lab and we made some copper salt solutions for him to hold for the pictures. Because when the public thinks of a famous organic/inorganic chemist, they think of someone working in the lab with solutions and weird chemical shit, not someone who writes stuff on the computer and goes to meetings all the time and hasn’t done a reaction in the lab for 20 years. And then your grandma asks why aren’t you a famous person like your boss since you spend an awfully long amount of time in the lab.

    “I’d be happy to see these folks get more credit and admiration, not less.”

    As long as it’s elevating the whole field, and not taking funds away from other researchers who are a lot less visible but who do a lot of good work. Otherwise it ends up being a situation where if you work for a famous boss, they call them and ask if they have any promising postdocs who would want to give an invited talk, whereas if you work for a non-superstar and go out of your way to go to apply conference where postdocs are given invited talks, your abstract is rejected. Because everyone wants to have a superstar name on their conference list. Not that I’m complaining though. My last ACS talk was ridiculously well attended when compared to the talks when I was in grad school and working for someone not as well known.

  106. Hufsnagel Says:


    You also need to be careful when using ISI as different people have the same name and initials. I am assuming the Peters JC you mean is the inorganic chemist at Caltech. His H-index is lower than 46 and a simple search of his name includes different authors (you can tell by just skimming the titles). Supports Paul’s previous call for author IDs.

  107. Special Guest Lecturer Says:

    Eugene – it’s not just academic science that operates on a winner-take-most mentality. Every competitive undertaking of which I am aware operates similarly. The real issue is that funding levels are too low. Raising the profile of chemistry is the only long-term solution to that problem, making it counterproductive to tear down our very best.

    Nocera is admired but he takes a lot of flack from peers for his high profile. I give him more credit for his communication skills with the public, in addition to his scientific prowess. That is a pathway to greater impact.

    Numbers Don’t Lie – your citation statistics clearly show why these metrics are useful for identifying top-tier researchers but are essentially useless for directly comparing their performance across the sub-fields of chemistry. You are making a naive assumption that all citations are created equal, that the very top breakthroughs are immediately recognized as such by the editors of Science and Nature, and that citations/paper is a meaningful statistic at all.

    You want to know impact? Make a list of the top handful of accomplishments of these researchers over the course of their careers. Debate. Much more satisfying.

  108. wolfie Says:

    What is an accomplishment for an academic ? To write an article that wins a noble prize ? Or a patent on a product that earns 100s of millions ?

    For me, it is not.

  109. wolfie Says:

    I have been humbled by my failures (solely as an allusion to my Lieber, who said this when he was awarded an MRS prize)

  110. EC Says:

    @eugene: “In other news, I’m still credulous at this stupid chemistry culture of elevating the group leader, especially when they are a full professor. This is the time when they are really busy and they really do not know any more about chemistry then their senior graduate students and postdocs. The only advantage they have is that they are older and have read more older papers and might have access to them in their memory. Other than that, their status is reward for past work and current administrative ability in keeping a group together, motivating students, and getting grants and not for current ability in science. If Nocera moved to the University of Nowhere his research would suffer because he couldn’t get as many good and really motivated students, who while working on what he suggested managed to discover lots of interesting things on the side. Moving to Harvard is safe.”

    Soooo right. But that’s the way science has evolved. And don’t underestimate that part of “The only advantage they have is that they are older and have read more older papers and might have access to them in their memory. “, along with the innate creativity and ability to connect seemingly unrelated pieces of information. It does make a difference more often than not… That, and the HUGE effort required to maintain a group of 30 people working on 15+ different projects and still know who is doing what and how (not always the case, but kudos when it is).

    Speaking of moves, any gossip on Ritter’s move to Germany from Harvard?

  111. Chemjobber Says:

    Ritter moving from Harvard? Where’s the red rotating siren light, if true?

  112. Stats Says:

    I always find the ratio of citations with and without self-citations enlightening: 0.7 and below stinks when it comes with C/P of 10 and lower.

  113. Special Guest Lecturer Says:

    For those of you keeping score with Nature and Science papers, I believe Roald Hoffmann has ~4.

  114. EC Says:

    @Chemjobber rumor has it that he received a juicy offer to move to Germany. And also that the tenure process at Harvard is underway (any odds on his chances of getting it?)

  115. Josh Telser Says:

    Dick Holm was inorganic chemistry at Harvard, but they did hire Ted Betley. He has done a hell of a good job and has already placed postdocs in jobs at Northwestern and Illinois.

    My next comment is that Science and Nature papers more likely to be retracted than any in ACS Journals.

    My final comment is that h-index is stupid, but it is possible to run it without self citations (it changes me from 29 to 23 or something like that). Review articles should also be removed (why Chem Rev has such high “impact”) and also bloats my h index.

  116. Rumor Mill Says:

    Aside from John L Wood officially going to Baylor I have heard of some potentially interesting moves:

    Corey Stephenson to UMichigan (solving the two-body problem)
    Scott Snyder to Scripps (I have conflicting information about whether it’s Jupiter or La Jolla)
    Brian Stoltz to Germany (I don’t know a definite school, but I hear that his Caltech days may be numbered)

  117. anonymous Says:

    Just so you guys know, Tom Mallouk (PSU) is not moving to Yale. He got an offer last year but turned it down. I asked him what school would he actually go to if he got an offer and his answer was MIT or Harvard…..

  118. Academic Movement and Hires, 2012-2013 | ChemBark Says:

    […] comment by “Rumor Mill” in the old Nocera thread reminds us that now is a good time to take […]

  119. CUchemist Says:

    @rumor mill

    it’s the Jupiter campus.

  120. Brant Cage Says:

    Hi All, interested in Dan Nocera and live in the Chicago area, he will be giving a talk at Illinois Institute of Technology April 17 2013 starting at 4 pm. There will be a reception to follow and all attendees are invited. Refreshments will be served.

Leave a Reply