Archive for the ‘Prizes and Awards’ Category

RIP Carl Djerassi…and the Importance of the Nobel Prize

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

ChemBark MedallionWhenever I get a media inquiry about the annual list of odds for winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, I am always sure to emphasize that the list attempts to address who will win the Nobel, not who should win the Nobel. When reporters follow up with the question, “Well, who should win it?”, my answer is always immediate and unequivocal:

Carl Djerassi.

Djerassi’s contributions to our field are immense (1 2 3)—from synthetic organic chemistry, to natural products, to analytical chemistry and beyond. Djerassi’s signature achievement in the development of oral contraception was earth-shattering to the worlds of chemistry and medicine, and it went on to have profound implications for society at large. Norethindrone changed the world like few molecules had before it.

With Djerassi’s death at the age of 91 last Friday, I will have to come up with a new answer to the question of who should win the next Nobel Prize. Djerassi’s name now ranks among those great chemists who inexplicably never did, on a list that includes titans like G.N. Lewis and Dimitri Mendeleev, whose work remains the foundation on which chemistry is built.

These massive oversights, coupled with jaw-dropping exclusions like Gabor Somorjai in 2007, make it impossible to consider the Nobel Prize as the definitive metric for achievement in chemistry. Is it fun to get excited about? Yes. Is it a high honor? Yes. But despite the massive hype and public reverence surrounding the Prize, it is nothing more.

When someone like Carl Djerassi dies after having had 40 years to be recognized, I simply cannot take the Swedish Academy seriously. With these omissions, made all the more heinous when juxtaposed against a “mistake” like 1996, the Academy continues to chisel away at the institution that is the Nobel. If they keep it up, nobody is going to care much about the Prize in 100 years, because others—more lavish and/or respected—are bound to come along and surpass it in the same way that the once vaunted prizes of horse racing or the NIT championship are now afterthoughts on the modern sports scene.

Last Friday marked the death of another piece of Alfred Nobel’s legacy to honor scientists who confer the “greatest benefit on mankind”. For surely, how could any serious list of this sort fail to include Carl Djerassi?

Predictions for the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Wednesday, 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

Notes

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?

Liveblogging the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

In keeping with ChemBark tradition, I’ll be liveblogging the announcement of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry tomorrow morning. Stop by this thread to talk everything Nobel and listen to enthralling commentary about making lecture slides for my Wednesday orgo lecture on elimination reactions of alkyl halides.

ChemBark Medallion

ChemBark’s Official List of Odds for the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

 

Liveblog entries after the jump…

(more…)

Predictions for the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

ChemBark MedallionHere it comes…the world of chemistry’s most exciting hour of fantastic prizes. Early this Wednesday morning, the winner(s) of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be announced. After a modest run of success in picking winners, I’ve had two straight rough years (with quasicrystals in 2011 and GPCRs in 2012). But, à la William Ernest Henley, my head is bloody but unbowed. It’s time to issue the annual list of odds against winning the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

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. There’s a big difference.

Odds Against Winning the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Single-Molecule Spectroscopy & Application of Lasers, Moerner/Orrit/Zare/–, 7-1
Nuclear Hormone Signaling, Chambon/Evans/Jensen/O’Malley/–, 9-1
Bioinorganic Chemistry, Gray/Lippard/Holm/–, 9-1
The Field (everything not listed), 16-1
Techniques in DNA Synthesis, Caruthers/Hood/+, 19-1
Electrochemistry/Electron Transfer, Bard/Hush/Gray/–, 24-1
Lithium-Ion Batteries, Goodenough, 24-1
Protein Folding, Hartl/Horwich/+, 24-1
Polymer Science, Matyjaszewski/Rizzardo/+/– 24-1
Instrumentation/Techniques in Genomics, Venter/+, 49-1
Organic Electronics, Tang/+, 49-1
Molecular Studies of Gene Recognition, Ptashne, 49-1
Biological Membrane Vesicles, Rothman/Schekman/+, 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
Molecular Modeling and Assorted Applications, Karplus/Houk/Schleyer/Miller/+/–, 99-1
Applications of NMR Spectroscopy, Waugh/Pines/Roberts/McConnell/+/–, 99-1
Synthetic Biology, Elowitz/Leibler/Collins/+/–, 99-1
Protein Engineering, Arnold/Stemmer/+/–, 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
Neurotransmitters, Scheller/Sudhof, 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/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/+, 299-1
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

Notes

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. I think it’s too early for any nanotechnology prize to an academic. What is the crowning achievement of this field? It’s also 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.

6. Pre-Nobels awarded in the last year. Robert Langer won the 2013 Wolf Prize in chemistry for drug delivery and biomaterials, and I’ve bumped with his odds. Langer could probably just as easily win the prize in medicine. Louis Brus won the 2013 Welch Award for quantum dots, and while I think the chances of quantum dots winning a prize given similar awards in physics, I’ve added Brus with long odds. Richard Scheller and Thomas Sudhof won the 2013 Lasker Award in Basic Research for their work on the molecular machinery and regulation of neurotransmitter release, and I’ve added them to the list. Stephen Lippard won the 2014 Priestley Medal and I’ve always said he could be grouped in with an award to bioinorganic work.

7. The last five prizes have gone biological (GPCRs), physical/materials (quasicrystals), organic (organopalladium chemistry), biological (ribosome), and biological (GFP). 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? Would they really give it to biologists again?

8. New additions based on suggestions: click chemistry, synthetic biology, protein engineering.

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, but the overall character seems slightly weighted toward the physical side.

10. Who is my final prediction for the 2013 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 single-molecule spectroscopy and laser people. Last year was very biological, and I’d like to think the committee wouldn’t give two such prize in a row. These spectroscopists should eventually win.

Elsewhere (2013): Curious Wavefunction, In the Pipeline, Thomson Reuters Citation Laureates, C&EN Video Roundtable, PBS NOVA, Everyday Scientist.

Programming Note: Nobel Predictions Video Roundtable

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

ChemBark MedallionHello friends.

I’ll be participating in a video roundtable discussion tomorrow/today (Thursday) at 3 PM Eastern US time. The discussion will focus on Nobel Prize predictions and general thoughts. The event is being hosted by reporters Carmen Drahl and Lauren Wolf at C&EN, with me, Neil Withers (Chemistry World), and Simon Frantz (BBC Future, formerly NobelPrize.org) as guests.

There’s more info here, including a link to the broadcast. Tune in and see why I normally stick to writing: I’m ugly and have a horrible nasal voice.

It’s going to be grand!

Edit to add: Here’s the video from the session:

Now Accepting Nominations for the 2012 Chemmy Awards

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

chemmy_2012_big

Happy New Year!

The close of 2012 means that we must decide who will take home the ChemBark Chemmy Awards for excellence (and the opposite) in chemistry. This year’s categories are the same as the last two years':

Outstanding Achievement/Paper in Organic or Biochemistry
Outstanding Achievement/Paper in Physical, Materials, Inorganic, or Analytical
News Story of the Year
Chemical Hero(ine) of the Year
Chemical Villain of the Year
Accident of the Year

The award winners will be announced later in the month. Please use the comments to make nominations. Here are some of my preliminary thoughts on contenders:

Breslow and the Spacedinos duplication scandal
ACS Publications vs. Jenica Rogers and other Librarians
The settlement of ACS v. Leadscope
Arsenic Death
UCLA/Harran/Sangji

What say you?