Field of Science

Fizz or Fizzle: The 2008 Nobels

It's that time of the year again. I have already made predictions in 2006 and 2007 and the last year hasn't exactly seen a windfall of novel discoveries that would suddenly add 10 new names to my list. So the lists largely hold. But what does happen in one year is that the Nobel Committee's moral baggage becomes indisputably heavier. When for example are they going to seek repentance for their misses by acknowledging:

Roger Tsien

Martin Karplus

The Palladium Gang (Heck, Sonogashira, Suzuki)

Stuart Schreiber

Ken Houk

As for Sir Fraser Stoddart, I personally think that he may get it in the future when a few more practical applications are found for his toys and methods (On the other hand I still claim credit for mentioning his name if he wins it)

Like last year, fields can also get rewarded through individuals; I personally would be buoyant if my favourite fields- computational chemistry, biochemistry and organic chemistry- win. I also think that Robert Langer can get it for medicine and single molecule spectroscopy may win for either physics or chemistry. Some x-ray structure of an important protein always stands a chance. The interesting thing about the Nobels is that they often reward things that are so important and widespread that we have all taken them for granted and therefore never think of them; no blogger thought of RNAi for example.

But whoever wins, every time the Nobel committee awards the prize, they inevitably commit a grave injustice since somebody deserving is left out. But then that's the nature of man-made accolades. Fortunately most scientists don't depend on such honors and instead are rewarded by nature's sure award; the kick that one gets from scientific discovery, as this guy can describe very well.

And so it goes.

Update: Here's a dark horse prediction for me- geochemistry or climate chemistry. As far as I know, the last climate chemistry prize was won a pretty long time ago for the discovery of the effects of CFCs on the ozone layer.

Links: Other and similar predictions- The Chem Blog and the Skeptical Chymist. The Coronenes have rightly rose above the committee and awarded their own prize. Now that's the kind of assertiveness that we need.


  1. I'd KILL to see it go to the people behind the magic that is palladium! It probably won't happen, though.

  2. Ditto. If Grubbs deserves it these guys at least equally deserve it if not more.

  3. If it goes to Tsien, it probably won't go solo to Tsien. I can envision the Nobel committee recognizing, for instance, Prasher and Chalfie (or whoever you happen to like for this one). I realize that the chemistry blogosphere has something of a love affair with Tsien, but anyway.

    I'd personally like to see - given my interests - another magnetic resonance prize or two awarded, especially as some of these methods are starting to get appreciable application, especially in the biological arenas. Deconvolving the potential list of awardees here would be a nightmare, but I think certain people (e.g., Harden McConnell, Alex Pines) would probably be safe bets.


  4. You are right; it probably shouldn't go solo to Tsien. MagRes is a minor interest of mine too and McConnell and Pines may be high on that list. I would also think of Ad Bax and one of the oldies- Albert Overhauser. In fact I am surprised he did not get it yet, considering how widely NOEs are used.

  5. Being rampantly speculative here in my own fantasy world where all would have to acknowledge the magnificence of magnetic resonance -

    Physics: Overhauser for his effect, C.P. Slichter for general bad-assery in magnetic resonance, and George Feher for ENDOR and applications of magnetic resonance to biophysics.

    Chemistry: Alex Pines for cross polarization (without which, solid state NMR spectroscopists would be very sad pandas) and other things deemed cite-worthy; Jacob Schaefer for CP/MAS and REDOR/TEDOR; McConnell for EPR, SDSL, and membranes.

    Physiology and Medicine: Bax and - why not? - Jim Prestegard. Maybe a worthy solid state NMR spectroscopist who set the groundwork for biological applications.

    This is never going to happen, but I can dream. Heh. On a more serious note, I can see Overhauser getting potentially screwed out of a Nobel - he originally predicted the effect for polarization transfer between electrons and nuclei - as it's physics but the internuclear variation has been the one that's found the most application in chemistry. Of course, I would love to be wrong about this.

    We'll see, though.

    - MJ


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