Liveblogging the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

October 9th, 2012

Hello, sports fans. Tune in tonight for a very special episode of ChemBark, in which I will be liveblogging the announcement of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Admire my audacity in predicting who will win based on the committee member tasked with making the announcement. Watch in horror as I try to translate Swedish and get a jump on the English-speaking press. It’s going to be grand!

ChemBark Medallion

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

 

Liveblog entries after the jump…

T+00:31:00 — Ok, ok…GPCRs are fantastic and certainly deserving of a Nobel Prize (in physiology and medicine).

T+00:21:00 — What are the chances these gentlemen are even members of the ACS?

T+00:17:00 — Alright. I’m done. Yes, this work is chemistry, but it’s not exactly what I was hoping for. Not that I was hoping for nuclear hormone receptors, but you could see those coming. The GPCRs cut the line.

T+0:015:00 — Horrible phone reception.

T+0:013:00 — Oh, good…it’s time for the awkward phone interview.

T+0:010:00 — I don’t think this discovery won any of the common “pre-Nobels”.

T+0:07:00 — Nope. Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka for G-protein coupled receptors. Off to Wikipedia…

T+0:01:00 — Lidin right there…inorganic?

T-0:00:00 — Here they come!

T-0:01:47 — The video feed is live. We’re just moments away from finding out what biologist has won this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry!

T-0:09:16 — I’m on the Web feed, loving the house music.

T-0:11:07 — I wonder if Felisa Wolfe-Simon is staring at her phone right now.

T-0:32:56 — Getting close. Time to use the lavatory and prepare for take-off.

T-1:57:01 — Copied below are the five members of this year’s selection committee. The chemist chosen to explain the award at the press conference could tip off the area of the prize before the actual announcement is made. Last year, Sven Lidin did an excellent job explaining quasicrystals. Now, he is chairman of the committee.

Sven Lidin (Chairman)
Professor of Inorganic Chemistry

Gunnar Karlström
Professor of Theoretical Chemistry

Måns Ehrenberg
Professor of Molecular Biology

Jan-Erling Bäckvall
Professor of Organic Chemistry

Astrid Gräslund (Secretary)
Professor of Biophysics

T-2:02:02 — Ooooh…the official countdown timer has started. You can catch the live Webcast of the announcement here.

T-2:05:00 — Those were some great tacos.

T-3:47:00 — It’s time for me to go purchase my traditional Nobel meal of tacos and lemonade for good luck.

T-5:20:00 — The tension is building… I don’t know why, but I’ve got a good feeling about this year’s prize. My gut says it’s actually going to go to a chemist (who works in a real chemistry department and is a member of his country’s chemical society).

T-7:45:00 — It’s official: today’s the busiest day (in terms of page views) in the blog’s history….and there are still five hours left.

T-8:35:00 — OK, fixed. False alarm on the Swedish hacking conspiracy. It was a buggy plugin used to run that poll from several posts backs.

T-8:40:00 — Whoa. What happened to the front page of the blog? The left sidebar is all messed up. Are the Swedes hacking ChemBark?

T-18:30:00 — It is kind of sad that people feel a Nobel Prize is necessary to complete a chemist’s credentials for admission to the Hall of Chemical Fame. Most of the chemists people remember are those who won prizes. Kids nowadays don’t know who chemists like Saul Winstein, Paul Bartlett, and Wallace Carothers were, just like they don’t go out and buy Madden to take snaps as Fran Tarkenton.

T-19:51:00 — The prize in physics is off the board and chemistry is on the clock…


61 Responses to “Liveblogging the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Considering the last several years, I’m thinking spectroscopy or electrochemistry-related might be up this year. Organic/Medical could also be recognized.

  2. Chemjobber Says:

    Disagree on Winstein. Everyone covers non-classical carbocation, and Winstein/Brown. But if you’re saying we don’t know the rest of his work, yeah, sure.

  3. Paul Says:

    I bet if you walked up to 100 random PhD students in organic chemistry, fewer than 30 would be able to tell you what Saul Winstein worked on or at what school.

  4. Stu Says:

    So, is there a list somewhere of the greatest chemists never to win the Nobel…?

  5. Paul Says:

    I know we’ve touched on that somewhere…maybe in the greatest organic chemists thread? Let’s rattle some off, assuming they had to be eligible for a Nobel (alive):

    G.N. Lewis
    Wallace Carothers
    Saul Winstein
    G.N. Lewis
    Paul D. Bartlett
    Frank Westheimer
    G.N. Lewis
    J.W. Gibbs
    Roger Adams
    Giacomo Ciamician
    Al Cotton
    Fred Basolo
    George Pimentel
    George Hammond
    Henry Eyring
    George Kistiakowsky
    Max Tishler
    Louis Hammett
    William Noyes

    Jack Roberts
    Al Bard
    Harry Gray
    George Whitesides
    David Evans
    Kurt Mislow
    Carl Djerassi

  6. Stu Says:

    Mendeleev? (I’ll have a think on some others)

  7. Untenured Prof Says:

    Certainly agree with you on Winstein’s lack of fame… which is sad, such beautiful chemistry.

  8. Chemjobber Says:

    I bet if you walked up to 100 random PhD students in organic chemistry, fewer than 30 would be able to tell you what Saul Winstein worked on or at what school.

    I might take that bet, actually. Perhaps to be resolved at NOS 2013?

    Not that it’s at all demonstrative, but it should be pointed out that Evans’ chemistry notes (the PDF of which is well-known) has a page on Winstein and his argument with Brown.

  9. eugene Says:

    I’m really too worried about all my publications getting accepted and applying for jobs to care too deeply about this stuff this year. Let’s face it, the people who are writing me references are not going to win. It’s only exiting if they give it to some dark horse like Hartwig for CH borylation of unfunctionalized alkanes… Yawn, wake me up when it’s over. I need to keep bugging the boss so he sends that Jackass article out tomorrow. Also need to tell him to send another email to Notyour Chemistry to bug them again…. heh heh heh.

    Paul, just go to sleep and forget about it. You know you want to.

  10. Stu Says:

    Eugene – sorry. Shoot me an e-mail if you want and I can chase up. Google should supply you with a relevant e-mail address…

    Paul – what’s with Lewis three times?!

  11. See Arr Oh Says:

    A few more for the list?

    Bill Johnson
    Henry Rzepa
    W.v. Eggers-Doering
    Al Eschenmoser
    C.N.R. Rao

    and (just ’cause I could) – Kyriacos C. Nicolaou

  12. Anonymous Says:

    I’m hoping for Bard or Gray.

  13. eugene Says:

    Eugene – sorry. Shoot me an e-mail if you want and I can chase up. Google should supply you with a relevant e-mail address…

    Don’t worry about it… I just learned that the article won’t matter for me from some other blog (namely Drugmonkey). Apparently even though I did most of the work and wrote it, because I’m co-first author and I decided to list them in alphabetical order, the other guy’s name comes first and that’s all that matters for academia. So… yeah. I really messed up on that one. I don’t think I can change the names around at this point without pissing off the other guy or the boss at this point. There were a bunch of tenured professors on that blog making fun of ‘second place co-first author’ suckers. So yeah… I can wait.

    I’m putting more hope into this jackass article.

  14. Paul Says:

    I think Lewis is the most egregious example of a chemist being passed over for a Nobel Prize.

  15. Matt Says:

    Eugene, while DM was partially right … another famous chemist I know has said: “Faculty members may not be able to read, but they can certainly count.” Get it out. Soon. And Make note of it in your letter.

  16. Matt Says:

    Paul,
    Couldn’t agree more about Lewis. He defined how we (as a field) think of molecules and bonding. Just a tremendous amount of reach from his work.

  17. Curious Wavefunction Says:

    “It is kind of sad that people feel a Nobel Prize is necessary to complete a chemist’s credentials for admission to the Hall of Chemical Fame.”

    Yes, and sometimes I wonder if we perpetuate this belief by constantly highlighting the prize and possible contenders on our blog.

    Part of the problem with the great physical organic chemists is that the concepts which they pioneered (carbocations, neighboring group participation, acid-base chemistry) are so ubiquitous that we take them for granted. I say it’s still better to know what Winstein did than who and where he was.

  18. Paul Says:

    We should use our blogs for good: let’s start an official Chemical Hall of Fame. We can run it like baseball’s, where you have sportswriters (rather, chemwriters/bloggers/reporters) vote on admission.

  19. Javier Says:

    Read “Cathedrals of Science” by Patrick Coffey. It explains why then never gave a Nobel to Lewis, and why there is no Nobel Prize in 1932, right in between Langmuir (Lewis’ biggest competitor) and Urey (Lewis student/competitor). In reality, Lewis deserved like 3 or 4 Nobel prizes, but apparently he got boycotted many times by the swedes.

    I believe, should have lived long enough, Winstein would have shared the prize with Olah in 1994 (Winstein died in 1969) and both would have gotten it much earlier.

  20. Ramiro Says:

    Hi Paul,

    Terrific job, I am looking forward for some updates. It is way more exciting to see your blog than watch the nobel.se front webpage for updates ;)

    I will make some of the students here to watch the live webcast with me, it will be mandatory.

    Cheers,

    Ramiro

  21. See Arr Oh Says:

    Paul – I’m probably gonna nip off to bed for a few hours, but I’ll try to join you on “The Twitter” for the actual unveiling. Vi får se vars svenska är bättre…

  22. Neil Says:

    Morning/evening all!

    “My gut says it’s actually going to go to a chemist (who works in a real chemistry department and is a member of his country’s chemical society).”

    I think that’s just wishful thinking – my money’s on something/someone(s) biological that I have to Google immediately.

  23. Ramiro Says:

    Have your odds changed since the announcement of the selection committee that will present the prize?

  24. vanad Says:

    vems svenska….

  25. Paul Says:

    I took the committee’s composition into account when making the odds. I think the panel leans biological, with maybe a twinge of inorganic. I don’t think this will be a year that orgo takes home the bacon.

  26. Neil Says:

    Mmm bacon.

    Sorry, where was I? Oh yes – you get a mention on the Guardian’s live blog!
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/oct/09/nobel-prize-chemistry-2012-live

  27. anonym Says:

    That’s a rather long lavatory break.

  28. Nostradamus Says:

    Grätzel should win this year.
    Maybe Djerassi ;)

  29. Curious Wavefunction Says:

    4:43 to go.

  30. Curious Wavefunction Says:

    1:30.

  31. Curious Wavefunction Says:

    Speak up, it’s 0:00!

  32. Curious Wavefunction Says:

    Lefkowitz, Kobilka. Surprised Stevens was left out. But GPCRs, hooray!

  33. David Eisenberg Says:

    I have only a weak recollection of having ever heard of these receptors, but 50% of drugs sounds like a lot, so I guess the prize is well deserved. Congratulations to the biochemists, yet again. Next year: Gray/Bard! [wishful thinking again]

  34. See Arr Oh Says:

    Hey, it’s the Nobel Memorial Biology prize….again

  35. MJ Says:

    Not to toot my own horn, but I actually predicted this possibility – http://interfacialdigressions.blogspot.com/2012/09/nobel-notes.html

    Again, surprised Stevens was left out, but the press release (haven’t read anything else just yet) seemed to emphasize the early work, with the structural accomplishments as the icing on the top. Feels a little “early” for the Prize, but YMMV.

    Cue the “it’s not chemistry!” chorus……

  36. Paul Says:

    Great call, MJ!

  37. Paul Says:

    OK, I’m going to take a nap. I retire defeated, yet again.

  38. excimére Says:

    Every time an organic chemist complains about “real chemistry” an angel quenches your reaction, so best not to risk it

  39. Curious Wavefunction Says:

    I also predicted Kobilka and Stevens (but not Lefkowitz) for both 2011 and 2012. I too was actually expecting them to win after a few years but hey, GPCRs are always cool.

  40. can't we all get along? Says:

    I would have predicted this as a physiology/medicine Nobel, and wasn’t expecting it for a few more years – but molecular pharmacology isn’t that different from biochemistry, so the “it’s not chemistry” whiners shouldn’t complain too loudly… Something like 50% of all drugs target a GPCR – so there are a lot of organic chemists synthesizing receptor agonists/antagonists and biochemists/structural biologists trying to figure out how those molecules selectively bind to and activate/inactivate those receptors.

    So if you didn’t complain about quasicrystals, you shouldn’t complain about GPCRs…

  41. bad wolf Says:

    Cue the Chemistry Nobel themesong.

  42. yoyomama Says:

    The main take home message is that “Chemistry” in the traditional sense can only win once every few years. For specific disciplines like “Organic Chemistry” that probably translates to about once a decade or so. Biochemists/molecular biologists actually have two opportunities for the Nobel via Chemistry and Medicine. Clearly, there is sufficient cash on hand to have a “Biology” Nobel, but since it wasn’t stipulated by Alfred it ain’t gonna appear.

  43. Paul Says:

    I’m sold. This discovery is totally worthy of a chemistry Nobel and should be embraced by chemists. I just wanted a golden lab for Christmas and what Santa brought was a labradoodle. An awesome dog, to be sure, just not totally what I was expecting.

    But one can also ask how far you can push this line. What if Santa brought a cat…or a fish? I like biology and physics plenty, but subjects in “pure” chemistry interest me more. So, I think it’s not unfair to lament that small-molecule chemistry regularly takes a backseat when you would otherwise expect it to rule the day. There is a prize in physiology; wouldn’t GPCRs seem more appropriate for that? If “everything is chemistry”, why does small-molecule work not win the other Nobels more often?

    I will admit that I feel dirty taking this argument. It reminds me of how the French have institutes to protect their language and culture from getting lost in the melting pot of an increasingly blended global society. Why not simply embrace a bigger tent? Well, one idea might be that there is something special and appealing about the specialized subject that might otherwise be lost in the mix, and people should be entitled to favor what suits their personal taste. (Ignoring the idea of the rules of breeding competitions), if the award for best labrador retriever at the Westminster dog show was given to a labradoodle, I think you’d find some people would be upset, even of it was a spectacular dog.

  44. the troll fisher king Says:

    I wonder how those whiners will react when single molecule biophysics gets the chemistry Nobel prize in a few years – they’ll probably say something like “but it’s just a bunch of physicists using lasers to study biological problems … that’s not chemistry …”?

  45. Paul Says:

    Most of pioneers of single molecule spectroscopy are in chemistry departments.

  46. Javier Says:

    This award also says to stop pulling the “it’s too soon to receive a Nobel” card.

  47. brody Says:

    You’re gonna need a bigger list.

  48. Paul Says:

    I should just quit. I am an embarrassment to prognostication. Two years in a row!

  49. MJ Says:

    Just a little bit of pushback –

    “I like biology and physics plenty, but subjects in “pure” chemistry interest me more.”

    Let’s take a look at what the ACS has considered “pure” chemistry….. http://webapps.acs.org/findawards/detail.jsp?ContentId=CTP_004546

    Hmm. I see a whole lot of people with interdisciplinary research interests, although not exclusively, of course. Perhaps this is yet another strike against the ACS – too many subversive bio people lurking about in its ranks! Heh.

    “So, I think it’s not unfair to lament that small-molecule chemistry regularly takes a backseat when you would otherwise expect it to rule the day.”

    Would you have mentioned this if polymer or materials chemistry had been recognized, as neither – by my definition, at least – involve “small” molecules?

    Having said all that, I love the idea of a Chemical Hall of Fame. Count me in!

  50. Lyle Langley Says:

    “So, I think it’s not unfair to lament that small-molecule chemistry regularly takes a backseat when you would otherwise expect it to rule the day.”

    Actually it is a bit unfair. Chemistry isn’t just “small-molecules” – so to think only one part of Chemistry (the one you like) should be considered is not realistic.

  51. Paul Says:

    MJ, I completely agree with you. I feel less than excited about this Prize, but will admit that my distaste is largely irrational and unwarranted. But that’s just how I feel. There’s no such thing as a “wrong emotion”. I’m not arguing this prize was undeserved or that we should prevent structural biology from winning in the future, but when it does win, surely it is fine for me to be less excited than if something more in my wheelhouse had won.

  52. Everyday Scientist » 2012 nobel in chemistry: Kobilka and Lefkowitz Says:

    [...] http://blog.chembark.com/2012/10/09/liveblogging-the-2012-nobel-prize-in-chemistry/ [...]

  53. See Arr Oh Says:

    @Paul – You’ve summed up nearly my entire 8-hour argument on the subject. Well put.

  54. Untenured Prof Says:

    I would go so far as to say it isn’t simply ‘personal taste’ it’s validation. If your field is awarded a Nobel Prize it validates your own decision to pursue chemical research in said field.

    I was also particularly un-enthused by this year’s award, I feel the awards are chosen more on the basis on how well it will be digested by the public than true merit – try explaining electrochemistry to Joe Public versus a pretty picture of a cell with receptor proteins along the edge with the promise of ‘better drugs’ and see which one is more palatable.

  55. yonemoto Says:

    I’m still rooting for Stephanie Kwolek. And then it occurred to me that I work for a nobel prize winner, so I’m going to ask him to nominate her.

  56. MJ Says:

    “I’m not arguing this prize was undeserved or that we should prevent structural biology from winning in the future, but when it does win, surely it is fine for me to be less excited than if something more in my wheelhouse had won.”

    No argument there – I’m just interested in where the dividing line falls for people. When I was at a medical research institute in 2009 (AKA the year of the ribosome), most of the researchers I knew felt that biochemistry and structural bio fits more naturally in Chemistry – , the medicine Nobel still goes for no-b.s. clinically relevant medical advances every so often, not just molecular/cell biology and various aspects of physiology. I used to think that materials/solid state chemistry was a pretty unobjectionable field until I heard some of the “WTF?” responses last year after Shechtman was recognized for the quasicrystal work. Truth be told, I had figured him on being a potential Physics laureate, though.

  57. Nobel 2012: Chemistry | Brent Neal Says:

    [...] who have complained about it. But in this particular case, I share the sentiments expressed at Chembark that this was excellent work deserving of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Share [...]

  58. yonemoto Says:

    MJ: Hamilton O Smith, restriction enzymes, 1978. In fact, that one should have been a chemistry prize, and not a medicine and physiology prize (it’s neither).

  59. MJ Says:

    yonemoto – That *is* a curious one, I’ve always been a bit befuddled by that one as well! It’s especially striking since Berg, Gilbert, and Sanger were awarded the Chemistry prize for recombinant DNA and nucleic acid sequencing two years later. And it’s not as if nucleic acid chemistry hasn’t gone unnoticed since then (PCR in 1993, for example).

  60. wolfie Says:

    wolfie eck

    will come sooner or later

    hahaha

  61. PJ Says:

    HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA


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