Predictions for the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

September 10th, 2012

ChemBark MedallionWe are exactly one month away from the announcement of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, so it’s time for ChemBark to commence its traditional rampant speculation.

Presented below is the official ChemBark list of odds against winning the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The list is a revised version of last year’s predictions, where I shamefully neglected to score the discovery that won. Quasicrystals seemed to come out of nowhere. It’ll never happen again; I promise.

Once again, the candidates are sorted below by discovery/invention rather than by scientist. The lists of scientists can get complicated. Some are listed more than once. In cases where someone not listed could easily share in the prize for the associated discovery, a “+” is listed. In cases where one of the scientists listed could easily not share in that prize, a “–” is listed.  The odds are reported in “odds against” format. Remember, this list attempts to address who will win the prize this year, not who should win the prize. There’s a big difference.

Odds Against Winning the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Nuclear Hormone Signaling, Chambon/Evans/Jensen, 6-1
Bioinorganic Chemistry, Gray/Lippard/Holm/–, 7-1
Spectroscopy & Application of Lasers, Zare/Moerner/+, 8-1
Techniques in DNA Synthesis, Caruthers/Hood/+, 13-1
The Field (everything not listed), 14-1
Electrochemistry/Electron Transfer, Bard/Hush/Gray/–, 19-1
Biological Membrane Vesicles, Rothman/Schekman/+, 19-1
Instrumentation/Techniques in Genomics, Venter/+, 24-1
Molecular Studies of Gene Recognition, Ptashne, 24-1
Polymer Science, Matyjaszewski/Rizzardo/+/– 24-1
Organic Electronics, Tang/+, 49-1
Solar Cells, Grätzel/+, 74-1
Nanotechnology, Lieber/Whitesides/Alivisatos/Mirkin/Seeman/+/–, 74-1
Transmission Electron Aberration-Corrected Microscopy, Haider/Rose/Urban, 74-1
Chemically-Amplified Photoresists, Frechet/Willson, 74-1
Protein Folding, Hartl/Horwich/+, 74-1
Mechanistic Enzymology, Walsh/Stubbe/+/–, 99-1
Lithium-Ion Batteries, Goodenough, 99-1
Development of the Birth Control Pill, Djerassi, 99-1
Molecular Modeling and Assorted Applications, Karplus/Houk/Schleyer/Miller/+/–, 99-1
Applications of NMR Spectroscopy, Waugh/Pines/Roberts/McConnell/+/–, 99-1
Development of Chemical Biology, Schultz/Schreiber/+, 99-1
Self-Assembly, Whitesides/Nuzzo/Stang/–, 149-1
Pigments of Life, Battersby/+, 149-1
DNA Methylation, Cedar/Razin/+, 149-1
Small Regulatory RNA, Ambros/Baulcombe/Ruvkun, 149-1
Eukaryotic RNA Polymerases, Roeder, 149-1
Contributions to Theoretical Physical Chemistry, Rice/+, 149-1
Metal-Organic Frameworks, Yaghi/Ferey/Kitagawa/+/–, 149-1
Bio- & Organo-catalysis, List/Lerner/Barbas/+/–, 149-1
Alternative Nucleic Acid Motifs, Rich/+, 149-1
Hydrogen Maser, Kleppner/+, 149-1
Drug Delivery/Tissue Engineering, Langer/+, 149-1
Assorted Protein Work, Levitzki/Hunter/Pawson/+, 149-1
Novel Cancer Therapeutics, Ullrich/+, 149-1
Combinatorial Chemistry/DOS, Schreiber/+, 199-1
Leptin, Coleman/Friedman/Leong, 199-1
Zeolites, Flanigan/+, 199-1
Fluorocarbons, DuPont/Curran/–, 199-1
Dendrimers, Frechet/Tomalia/+, 199-1
Organic Synthesis, Evans/Danishefsky/Nicolaou/Ley/Trost/Stork/Wender/Kishi/+/–, 249-1
Mechanical Bonds and Applications, Sauvage/Stoddart/+, 299-
Contributions to Bioorganic Chemistry, Breslow/Eschenmoser/+, 299-1
Understanding of Organic Stereochemistry, Mislow, 399-1
Molecular Machines, Stoddart/Tour/+/–, 499-1
Molecular Recognition, Dervan/+, 999-1
Astrochemistry, Oka, 999-1


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

2. I’m not taking any wagers.

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

4. I don’t think any of the chemists on my previous list died within the past year (which is important, since awards are not made posthumously).

5. Lieber and Alivisatos make a huge jump up the rankings in the wake of receiving the 2012 Wolf Prize in Chemistry, but I am still skeptical about nanotechnology winning a Nobel until there is a monster, practical achievement. Ronald Evans took the 2012 Wolf Prize in Medicine, but the nuclear hormone receptor group has already been on short odds for quite some time.

6. Dan Shechtman is a professor of materials science and won a Wolf Prize in physics, not chemistry, which is probably why he escaped my notice. I’ve gone back through the list of Wolf Prizes in subjects other than chemistry and added the following discoveries: Transmission Electron Aberration-Corrected Microscopy (physics, 2011); giant magnetoresistance (physics, 2007); hydrogen maser (physics, 2005); novel cancer therapeutics (medicine, 2010); DNA methylation (medicine, 2008).

7. Alexander Rich, a past winner of the Welch Award, has been added for his work with nucleic acids.

8. The last five prizes have gone physical/materials (quasicrystals), organic (organopalladium chemistry), biological (ribosome), biological (GFP), physical/surfaces (Ertl). It has been a long time since something distinctly inorganic won, unless you are going to count organopalladium (2010) or Grubbs/Schrock (2005). Perhaps inorganic is due? Or perhaps it is time for chemistry to take a side step for biology again?

9. The Nobel Committee for chemistry this year is a pretty diverse group. I don’t think there is an obvious bias that would favor a prize going to one particular sub-discipline over another.

10. Who is my final prediction for the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (i.e., my one pick if someone were to put a gun to my head and say that a winning prediction was the only thing that would save my life)?  I’m going with the nuclear hormone signaling people, Chambon, Evans, and Jensen.  Last year was distinctly physical, so maybe biology is next in line? Also, these guys are getting up there in years, which adds an extra incentive for their recognition now instead of kicking the can down the road. They have won everything else, so their credentials are well established. I think this is the year it finally happens.

This post will be updated with links to other fresh (2012) predictions as they appear on other blogs.  For links to past predictions made by other sites, see the bottom of this post.

2012 predictions: Curious Wavefunction, Derek Lowe, Musings on Music and Life, Everyday Scientist, Brent Neal, Thomson-Reuters, Nanotella, Reddit Chemistry, Karin Bojs.

2012 press: Slate, Chemistry World Blog.

For more random #Nobel thoughts and chemistry banter, follow @ChemBark on Twitter.

50 Responses to “Predictions for the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry”

  1. Luc Allemand Says:

    If I dare : Fert and Grünberg already received a Nobel in Physics for the discovery of Giant Magnetoresistance (2007). I wouldn’t bet they deserve a second one in chemistry
    Otherwise, you should add the discovery of cuprates/High temperature supraconduction by Raveau et al. (they did all the chemistry).

  2. Paul Says:

    Crap. Thanks, Luc. I’ll put that on my to-do list of scratches.

    Also, I forgot to add Lasker winners Hartl and Horwich for protein folding.

  3. Matt Says:

    I think that Lasker and Hartl have a chance.
    I like Langer
    But I think it may be the year for Alivasatos/Lieber/Whitesides

  4. pinkyprincess Says:

    I haven’t read every organocatalysis paper on the field so I don”t know if your choices were made based on number of publications by author age or so ?
    What I believe (at least based on what I’ve read so far) is MacMillan kind of conceptualized the whole field and it’s responsable for two activation modes.
    I would add him and leave Barbas in the +maybe he as well side. Though I don’t think it’s organocatalysis time yet maybe in a few years.

    Nano … Mmm I thik nano and biotech still have a little road to go in order to have a rel chance. I believe it could be Breslow and Eschenmocher’s year.

    More of. A field problem. Reading your list (Derek Lowe wrote about this a few years ago) you kind of feel there’s no so much chemistry but medicine or biology. Obviously chem has to do with it but outsiders feel like the prize was awarded to bio or med. It reinforces my belief that maybe us chemist need better PR people

  5. mevans Says:

    pinky, I strongly, strongly doubt that Breslow will win the Nobel Prize in the year of “spacedino,” unless the Nobel committee has had their heads under rocks.

    I’m rooting for Zare and the laser folks or Matyjaszewski for polymer science!

  6. pinkyprincess Says:

    After I pressed submit I thought about space dino lol :p you are totally right though is not Eschemoscher’ fault though… Lasers have been ronging for a while as potential winners but seem to remain always the bridesmaid never the bride.

    Also after quasicrystals ? I think is going to be on biology side again. Who knows ? Maybe it’s on FIELD (everything else not listed in here) and it’s a Lwe didn’t see it coming” kind of thing

  7. Stefan Says:

    Paul, I applaud your list. Have two other areas to add for consideration; Protein Engineering (Arnold/Baker/Stemmer) and Synthetic Biology (Elowitz/Leibler/Collins).

  8. It’s getting to that time of year…. « musings on music and life Says:

    [...] Lowe and Chembark have their Nobel predictions for this year already up, I thought I would contribute with mine. [...]

  9. SarahJJ Says:

    I also think after quasicrystals and Pd catalysis, it will be on the biological side again.
    Worth mentioning is the field of in vitro evolution, of which Szostak and Joyce were pioneers.
    Or Schultz and Lerner for the development of catalytic antibodies.

  10. Matt Says:

    I’m going to second Stefan’s Synthetic Bio plug. On it’s own, the iGEM competition makes some really really cool things.

  11. Everyday Scientist » 2012 nobel predictions Says:

    [...] check out other predictions at ChemBark and The Curious Wavefunction. And my prior predictions.) | No Comments [...]

  12. Chemjobber Says:

    Isn’t it time some kind of stakes were at play for these predictions? I know that Paul won’t take bets and doesn’t want to host evidence of interstate gambling, but shouldn’t there be something at cost for making bold predictions?

    Just a simple “I am not smarted than a fifth grader” would do.

  13. Chemjobber Says:

    uh, er, that’s “smarter”.

  14. Predictions for the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry | ChemBark - Organic Electronics Says:

    [...] is the original post: Predictions for the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry | ChemBark Tags: cells, corrected-microscopy, electron, electron-aberration-, electronics, haider, lieber, [...]

  15. Orthogon Says:

    I agree about the nuclear receptors, but I’m not sure Chambon would be included. Jensen clearly needs to be recognized, and probably Evans, too. But one could make a good case for Bert O’Malley as well–he discovered that the nuclear receptors regulate gene expression as well as the coactivators/corepressors that are critical links in this process.

  16. HI Says:

    I also commented last year, but how about David Allis for his many contributions to histone modifications/chromatin. Histone modifying enzymes are part of coactivators and coreppressors.

  17. Lyle Langley Says:


    “I am not smarted than a fifth grader”…. “I am so smart! S-M-R-T… I mean S-M-A-R-T!”

  18. Anonymous Says:

    i want the nobel to be awarded for Inorganic chemistry: Multiple bonds between heavy elements. Bob West Mes2Si=SiMes2 and Phil Power for triple bonds. Actual probability is of course very low.

  19. Chemjobber Says:

    A classic case of Muphry’s Law, Lyle. (How’s the editing biz?)

  20. tt Says:

    + Stefan

    Protein Engineering/Directed Evolution (Arnold/Baker/Stemmer) should be on the list, although there are a lot of contributors, albeit Stemmer and Arnold are the leaders (they also won the Draper Prize in 2011 which is a big chunck of $).

  21. Anonymous Says:

    druker, sawyers, lydon for imatinib

  22. Mrs._Beakley Says:

    Jacob Israelachvili has been extremely influential in the area of self-assembly, but he could be equally deserving in a separate category on intermolecular forces and the molecular basis of adhesion and wetting.

  23. 2012 Nobel prize speculations begin « The k2p blog Says:

    [...] Chemistry, Chemistry and Physics, Economics, Literature. Share this:StumbleUponDiggTwitterFacebookEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. [...]

  24. anon Says:

    @pinkyprincess, MacMillan definitely did not conceptualize organocatalysis. He has some nice applications of the strategy and has pushed the field forward, but he did not start it.

  25. Quora Says:

    Why has Craig Venter not been awarded a Nobel prize?…

    In my opinion, he probably never will and probably shouldn’t, at least for Chemistry or Physiology/Medicine. First off, the Nobel Prizes have typically been given for groundbreaking discoveries and hypotheses that have lead to important insight or exp…

  26. Lyle Langley Says:

    “A classic case of Muphry’s Law, Lyle. (How’s the editing biz?)”

    Unfortunately, not as lucrative as the Monorail business.

  27. It’s Nobel time again! | Brent Neal Says:

    [...] the odds on the potential future laureates than the physicists. I am particularly intrigued by Chembark and The Curious Wavefunction‘s  predictions. Given a recent shift away from the bio-related [...]

  28. Paul Says:

    Here is why this year’s ScienceWatch/Thomson-Reuters predictions in chemistry are silly:

    1) Quantum dots. No chance. They won the prize in physics in 2000!!

    2) TiO2. The Honda-Fujishima system for splitting water is cool, but it is woefully inefficient. No one is going to award a prize in this discipline unless the solar energy problem is solved. If….IF…the Nobel committee were to jump the gun and make a solar award, this discovery might get lumped in with Gratzel at 74-1.

    3) Gold catalysis. Ertl just won for heterogeneous catalysis and Somorjai got aced-out. The last time surface chemistry won before that was Irving Langmuir in the 1930s!

  29. Neil Says:

    In my opinion, the Thomson-Reuters predictions are always pretty silly: they’re based on citations alone. And citations have grown (and probably still are growing) exponentially since, basically, forever. So Reuters will always over-value recent highly cited work over older work that is widely used, but no longer requires citing BECAUSE EVERYONE KNOWS ABOUT IT.

    The kind of work that wins Nobels has been in textbooks for 10-20 years, not being cited 10-20 times a week. And that’s pretty much the right way round, surely?

  30. Paul Says:

    Agreed. More here.

    I just get riled up because media outlets jump on the T-R press release every year, especially if the list includes a hometown hero.

    Ed the Dog should form the ChemBark News Office and press release the “official” odds list.

    Hey, NYT, WaPo, NBC, ABC, Fox, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, BBC…call me, baby!!

  31. Joel Says:

    Wouldn’t electron transfer (Bard, Gray, etc) already be recognized by the prize to Rudy Marcus? While I think Brus has little chance this year, the comparison between colloidal nanocrystals and the 2000 physics prize is just about as valid.

    The chemistry prize hasn’t gone to a biologist in awhile, so I predict some protein crystal will win it this year. Maybe this would make your list too cynical, but perhaps “Random protein crystal” should get a mention, with odds better than The Field.

  32. McKinney Says:

    Barry Sharpless for click chemistry

  33. AnonyBark Says:

    How do we factor in ‘buying the prize’ into these predictions? It’s well known that many contenders lavish nobel committee members with lavish gifts and travel to exotic conferences. In his recent book tour, Erling Norrby (oft novel prize committee member) happily recounts his all expense paid trip on Craig Venter’s around the world yacht trip to ‘collect water samples’.

    How many of you out there have seen committee members lavished with gifts and attention to win their favor in the voting booth…politics is politics even with the Nobel

  34. yonemoto Says:

    Stephanie Kwolek, kevlar, aramids. Oh who am I kidding, those jerks will never pick her.

    And Yeah, Venter/Collins for the medicine prize. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Watson/Crick prize, so it’s a particularly symbolic year, and they eat that shit up.

  35. anon Says:

    Have heard from very reliable sources that Jensen is out because of a prior publication on a labelled steroid (which the committee is aware of but I have not been able to find). And I agree with Orthogon above that O’Malley is much more deserving than Chambon.

  36. Joseph Says:

    Agreed with Anon and Orthogon, O’Malley deserves more than Chambon. O’Malley showed the gene expression changes due to nuclear receptors and later discovered coactivators, which proved the importance of these molecules in various diseases.

  37. Swamy Says:

    What about D. Basavaiah, who has developed the Baylis-Hillman reactions, which has become a highly useful tool in asymmetric synthesis. It is perhaps more versatile and useful than Diels-Alder reaction.

  38. Fitzgerald Says:

    It amazes me that for Self-Assembly, people are sometimes forgetting that the
    initiator of this field is Prof. Jacob Sagiv.
    The first papers about SAMs were published by Prof. Sagiv, and he’s still actively publishing.

  39. Chemistry World Blog » Who will win the chemistry Nobel? | Says:

    [...] Bracher over at ChemBark has also put together his predictions and added a few more as he’s still smarting over not having Dan Shechtman’s quasicrystals down [...]

  40. Paul Says:

    I’m going to go ahead and leave a note to myself here for next year:

    add Orrit to single molecule spectroscopy (based on Sam’s picks)
    add O’Malley to the nuclear hormone receptor crowd
    shorten the odds on Horwich/Hartl
    lengthen the odds on Ptashne
    lengthen the odds on the biological membrane vesicles crowd

  41. Liveblogging the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry | ChemBark Says:

    [...] ChemBark’s Official List of Odds for the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry [...]

  42. Anonymous Says:

    I’d be happy if Gray got it, that guy is cool

  43. Rakesh Says:

    Somehow I feel its gonna be Gratzel for Solar cells. I think the time has come to recognize people from renewable energy fields.

  44. Anonymous Says:

    My gut feeling goes to either in the area of solar cells(Michael Grätzel or Paul Alivisatos ) or gold catalysis (Graham Hutchings).

  45. Swede Says:

    A few comments:
    . The list has a very heavy weight on the US.
    . The names suggested for mechanistic enzymology are ridiculous.
    . The names suggested for molecular modeling are even more ridiculous

  46. dale Says:

    good job… the winners aren’t even on this list

  47. Paul Says:

    I know…and for the second year in a row.

    I am a worthless human being.

  48. vanad Says:


    a very heavy US bias the list may have, but given the clear tendencies of the committee to award work from that country, this would appear to be completely justified. Presumably you also recognise this point, which is why you didn’t label it “ridiculous”.

  49. Biochemhelp Says:

    i expected the prize for nanotechnology guys.

  50. competitions for money Says:

    I also thing that the Breslow will win the Nobel Prize in the year of spacedino. Its good.

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