Predictions for the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

October 7th, 2015

ChemBark MedallionThe announcement is less than an hour away, so I guess I should post my official list of odds against winning the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Last Thursday, I weighed in with my predictions on an ACS Webinar, so I don’t feel too late. You can watch a recording of the session here.

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 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Bioinorganic Chemistry, Gray/Lippard/Holm/–, 7-1
Lithium-Ion Batteries, Goodenough/Whittingham, 8-1
Nuclear Hormone Signaling, Chambon/Evans/O’Malley/–, 11-1
Polymer Science, Matyjaszewski/Rizzardo/+/– 15-1
Techniques in DNA Synthesis, Caruthers/Hood/+, 15-1
The Field (everything not listed), 16-1
Electrochemistry/Electron Transfer, Bard/Hush/Gray/–, 24-1
DNA-Damage Repair, Elledge/Witkin, 24-1
Protein Folding, Hartl/Horwich/+, 24-1
CRISPR/Cas9, Doudna/Charpentier/Zhang/–, 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
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, 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/+/–, 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, 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 Moerner, Betzig, and Hell for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy. I had the discovery listed as the favorite at 7-1, another big win for the ChemBark machine. Booyah.

6. Pre-Nobels awarded in the last year. There was no Wolf Prize in chemistry this year and the physics prize was not very chemical, so nothing new to add on that end. Stephen Elledge and Evelyn Witkin won the 2015 Lasker Award in Basic Medical Research for their work on biological responses to DNA damage. That work is definitely molecular in nature, and I’ve added it to the list with decent odds.

7. Everyone is shouting that CRISPR/Cas9 is going to win a Nobel, and I think that looks increasingly likely too. The main players seems to be Jennifer Doudna, Emmanuelle Charpentier, and Feng Zhang, but there is significant controversy over the patent rights. That controversy, coupled with the fact that the technique is relatively new (2012), probably hurts their Nobel chances for this year. The Nobel Committee is notorious about letting things sit before recognition.

8. I am significantly bumping up lithium-ion batteries this year and am lobbying hard that this is the discovery that should win. The technology is chemical in nature and incredibly important for the world we live in. It deserves a prize, and Goodenough is 93 years old. It is time for the Nobel Committee to get this done. Now.

9. The last five prizes have gone physical (super-resolved fluorescence microscopy), theoretical/computational (Karplus), biological (GPCRs), physical/materials (quasicrystals), and organic (organopalladium chemistry). It has still been a long time since something distinctly inorganic won, so perhaps it is due?

10. A quick look at the 2015 Nobel Committee reveals somewhat of a physical slant, but that discipline has won two years in a row.

11. And it’s the bioinorganic pioneers who I’m officially picking. We shall see within the hour!

6 Responses to “Predictions for the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry”

  1. petros Says:

    well done for having DNA repair high up, even though the names mentioned din’t share the prize

  2. Paul Bracher Says:

    Deleted CRISPR/Cas9 at 24-1 from the list by mistake. Re-inserted.

  3. Nobel Says:

    You forgot to delete McConnell.

  4. bioinorganic chemist Says:

    Can we just accept that bioinorganic chemistry won’t win the prize despite it’s importance?

    -a perpetually disappointed bioinorganic chemist

  5. Chem Unjobber Says:

    Djerassi couldn’t have won, because he’s 6 feet under.

  6. Steven Rios Says:

    although already know the result, your views are also great.

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