Wow, 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
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,
Synthetic Biology, Elowitz/Leibler/Collins/+/–, 99-1
Protein Engineering, Arnold
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/
Alternative Nucleic Acid Motifs, Rich/+, 149-1
Hydrogen Maser, Kleppner/+, 149-1
Assorted Protein Work, Levitzki/Hunter
Novel Cancer Therapeutics, Ullrich/+, 149-1
Combinatorial Chemistry/DOS, Schreiber/+, 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.
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?