Here 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/
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/
Applications of NMR Spectroscopy, Waugh/Pines/Roberts/McConnell/+/–, 99-1
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
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/
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
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. 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.