Predictions for the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

October 8th, 2014

ChemBark MedallionWow, is the announcement really in five hours? Then I guess it is time to post my predictions and official list of odds against winning the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Incidentally, this is what has become of my life—a never-ending series of nearly missed deadlines. If I get tenure, you can expect my yearly odds to get posted sometime in November, which will also ensure my picks are more accurate.

As is the custom, the candidates are sorted below by discovery/invention rather than by scientist. The treatment of candidate 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.

Odds Against Winning the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Single-Molecule Spectroscopy & Application of Lasers, Moerner/Orrit/Zare/–, 7-1
Bioinorganic Chemistry, Gray/Lippard/Holm/–, 9-1
Nuclear Hormone Signaling, Chambon/Evans/O’Malley/–, 14-1
Lithium-Ion Batteries, Goodenough, 15-1
The Field (everything not listed), 16-1
Techniques in DNA Synthesis, Caruthers/Hood/+, 19-1
Electrochemistry/Electron Transfer, Bard/Hush/Gray/–, 24-1
Protein Folding, Hartl/Horwich/+, 24-1
Polymer Science, Matyjaszewski/Rizzardo/+/– 24-1
Unfolded Protein Response, Mori/Walter, 29-1
Organic Electronics, Tang/+, 34-1
Instrumentation/Techniques in Genomics, Venter/+, 49-1
Molecular Studies of Gene Recognition, Ptashne, 49-1
Transmission Electron Aberration-Corrected Microscopy, Haider/Rose/Urban, 74-1
Chemically-Amplified Photoresists, Frechet/Willson, 74-1
Development of the Birth Control Pill, Djerassi, 74-1
Drug Delivery/Tissue Engineering, Langer/+, 99-1
Mechanistic Enzymology, Walsh/Stubbe/+/–, 99-1
Solar Cells, Grätzel/+, 99-1
Nanotechnology, Lieber/Whitesides/Alivisatos/Mirkin/Seeman/+/–, 99-1
Applications of NMR Spectroscopy, Waugh/Pines/Roberts/McConnell/+/–, 99-1
Synthetic Biology, Elowitz/Leibler/Collins/+/–, 99-1
Protein Engineering, Arnold/+/–, 149-1
Development of Chemical Biology, Schultz/Schreiber/+, 149-1
Click Chemistry, Sharpless/+, 149-1
Quantum Dots, Brus/+, 149-1
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
Assorted Protein Work, Levitzki/Hunter/+, 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/+, 299-1
Contributions to Bioorganic Chemistry, Breslow/Eschenmoser/+, 299-1
DNA Electrochemistry, Barton, 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. Let me know if anyone on this list is dead. (It’s important, because awards are not made posthumously.)

5. Last year’s prize went to Karplus, Levitt, and Warshel for their computational work in modeling. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the prize was that it is the closest the Nobel Committee has come to giving a lifetime achievement award (to Karplus) in a long time. Usually, the committee recognizes the work around a single discovery or development, so scientists with fantastic, broad bodies of work often fail to be recognized vis-à-vis scientists with a single, major, fundamental discovery. It is almost as if discoveries win the prize rather than scientists. But after last year, I think there is much more hope for scientists like Whitesides, Gray, Langer, Walsh, and others with fantastic total bodies of work.

6. I still think it’s too early for any nanotechnology prize to an academic. What is the crowning achievement of this field? I also still think it is too early for a solar energy prize (e.g., for DSSCs). The winners of this prize will be the scientists who solve the world’s consumable energy problem, or at least make a solid dent in it.

7. Pre-Nobels awarded in the last year. Kazutoshi Mori and Peter Walter won the 2014 Lasker Award in Basic Research for their work on the unfolded protein response. This must be treated as a serious contender for the Nobel in Chemistry. Chi-Huey Wong won the 2014 Wolf Prize in chemistry for his work in carbohydrate chemistry, but the lack of a single standout discovery probably hurts his chances for a Nobel. There was no Wolf Prize in Physics awarded this year, and the 2015 Priestley Medalist is Jackie Barton. I’ve added Barton to the list.

8. The last five prizes have gone theoretical/computational, biological (GPCRs), physical/materials (quasicrystals), organic (organopalladium chemistry), and biological (ribosome). It has still 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?

9. A quick look at the 2014 Nobel Committee reveals somewhat of a physical slant, in my opinion. I think that could possibly bode well for the laser people.

10. And it’s the single-molecule spectroscopy / laser people who I’m officially picking. I think this is an inevitable prize, so why the heck shouldn’t I keep picking it until it wins? On the flip side, last year’s prize was computational/physical, so maybe the Committee would try to mix it up?

29 Responses to “Predictions for the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry”

  1. anon Says:

    Sadly, Barbas has passed and is no longer eligible.

  2. Paul Bracher Says:

    @anon: Completely forgot. Updated the listing.

  3. Canuck Says:

    Douglas Coleman died this year

  4. Neil Says:

    ‘A quick look at the 2014 Nobel Committee reveals somewhat of a physical slant’ – a longer look (OK, googling their names) reveals a lot of that physical slant is biophysical!

    My money is on another bio prize.

  5. Goblinshark17 Says:

    I predict (a few hours before the announcement) Peter G. Schultz, for expanding the genetic code to include unnatural, lab-synthesized amino acids, which can then be genetically programmed into any desired site of any protein of interest. Also, for pioneering combinatorial chemistry, high-throughput chemistry, and screenable molecular libraries.

  6. t-mos Says:

    In my opinion Stephan Hell is completely missing. He was first describing the theory behind STED-microscopy and some years later was the first who build one. STED was the first technique able to circumvent the defraction-limit of lambda/2 and is today a major technique in biophysical chemistry (see background of committee)

  7. David Eisenberg Says:

    Here in Austin we’re betting on (and rooting for) Goodenough.

  8. David Eisenberg Says:

    Congrats to t-mos! :-)

  9. t-mos Says:

    I should have bet …. Damn ….

  10. J Says:

    I bet Xiaowei Zhuang is pissed. Her paper came out the same time as Betzig’s, although in Nature Methods. I always wondered what was up with that…

  11. X Says:

    Your list is much better than that predictions of Thompson Reuters.
    The winning ones are in the textbooks, not in sci.

  12. c Says:

    J, Eric Betzig won mainly for his early work in single-molecule spectroscopy back in the 1990s, not just his super-resolution stuff in 2006.

  13. James Says:

    Well done, sir. Special mention to commenter t-mod for extremely well-timed prescience

  14. Wavefunction Says:

    Well done, t-mod and Paul.

  15. MIT Says:

    Just an update on:
    Applications of NMR Spectroscopy, Waugh/Pines/Roberts/McConnell/+/–, 99-1

    Waugh passed away this summer.

  16. Paul Bracher Says:

    I always hate having to cross people off the list, but thanks for the updates.

  17. B Says:

    Betzig submitted his manuscript for his Science Express paper in March 2006, four months before Zhuang submitted the manuscript for her Nature Methods paper. I wonder why Betzig’s publication was delayed… Also, Betzig applied for a patent for PALM in May 2005, 15 months before Zhuang applied for a patent for STORM.

  18. Alb Says:

    Once talked to Betzig, he told me his paper got delayed because the reviewers needed TEM data confirming the PALM data for the same cell. Nevertheless, I’m sure Zhuang wishes she was on that list

  19. NK Says:

    I’m very pleased with the award this year. Betzig and Hell deserved the prize for both their theoretical contributions to super-resolution in the 90s, and their early demonstrations of the principle in practice. Moerner deserved it for first imaging single molecules and later for his lab discovering the photoswitching property of GFP. Xiaowei Zhuang and her lab deserve plenty of credit for her lab’s development of STORM, but all of the groundwork was established for that already by Betzig’s and Moerner’s work. That’s why the final development of the point-localization super-resolution technique was achieved almost simultaneously in three laboratories. At that point, the approach that would be used was already obvious to close observers based on previous papers. It was simply a race to be first to demonstrate it, and later it became a race to demonstrate the best precision and the most clever uses.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    Xiaowei is a clever user of STORM than Eric since no significant discovery made by using of PALM from Betzig lab but Xiaowei continues contributing effort toward applications of STORM and already made several important structural findings.

  21. Imaging Says:

    Any rule against having a fourth person for Nobel? Xiaowei Zhuang surely should have been included in this Prize.

  22. non-sufficient funds (NSF) Says:

    At Janelia, Betzig has published 20 papers (reviews or articles, according to WOS). His h index is 13. I’ll be a lot of commenters on this site have higher h indices in their independent careers. It goes up to 26 if you include his Bell labs publications. Sorry, but a few months here and there and filing patents does not mean much anymore. Zhuang has done much more science with super-resolution and other methods, and her group also was among the first to demonstrate the technique. This sends a terrible message to women and Chinese-Americans. If anyone from inside the field would like to elaborate on why common sense academic metrics do not apply to single-molecule spectroscopy and imaging, I’m sure a lot of us would love to hear it. Personally, I’m in a field where someone who virtually no one likes won the Nobel and effectively shut down that topic for the foreseeable future. In that case, they had two vacant slots they left empty on purpose. In the present case, I think there could have been two prizes (like they did in physics with trapping/cooling and BEC getting separate prized). Why not a separate prize for Moerner and Orrit and then let the super-res folks have one.

    Also, do people actually use STED widely?

  23. DaveBob Says:

    Cheers for my former colleague WE Moerner! A deserving laureate. A little sadness here for Dick Zare . . . with this prize being awarded, his work in the fundamental concept of applications of lasers for analysis, including the development and application of laser induced fluorescence, will not receive this level of recognition.

  24. el-sangrio Says:

    I think most people would be satisfied with an H-Index of 13 if the citation # of those articles was >10,000!

  25. AC Says:

    @ non-sufficient funds (NSF):

    “Metrics are produced by people who don’t understand the research for people who don’t understand the research” (David Colquhoun).

  26. Super-rez Says:

    I agree with NK…the idea and theory behind super-resolved fluorescence microscopy were published long before Zhuang et al’s contributions. Just check out the publications (and the dates) for yourself. Betzig, Moerner and Hell are the real pioneers…they laid the groundwork long before anyone else, and initiated the burst in activity.

  27. GATTAquant Says:

    The GATTAquant Team also wants to thanks E. Betzig, S. Hell & W. Moerner for the development of super-resolution microscopy. Without their work, GATTAquant wouldn’t exist!
    For more information about our Nanorulers, visit

  28. Doug Says:

    Please remove Leroy Hood’s name from your Nobel Prize predictions “Techniques in DNA Synthesis” Lee has done many things in his long career but none of them have had any impact the Chemical synthesis of DNA. I actually saw him give a talk several years ago at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories in Palo Alto where he attempted to credit his laboratory for having a “hand in the development of DNA synthesis” and afterwards when he realized that I was in the audience he came to me and profusely apologized for his “slip up”. He may have made other “slip ups” other times and as a result he is included with Caruthers on your list. I feel that a long neglected prize is Letsinger and Caruthers for P(III) techniques in DNA/RNA synthesis. Unfortunately Bob died in June this year; the number of Nobel Prizes predicated on the ability to do Phosphoramidte DNA synthesis is as long as your arm. So at this point if Cauthers is going to share the prize it would probably be with Beaucage, but then again Serge was Marv’s post-doc and as you have said many times Grad Students and Post-docs work without recognition.

  29. Paul Bracher Says:

    This is just a note for next year to delete McConnell :(

    H/T @heppnerd:

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