Fall is in the air, which (for a very small group of people) brings thoughts of a call from Stockholm. The Nobel Prizes will be announced next week, starting the Physiology and Medicine on Monday. And as in years past, people are lining up with predictions.
Predicting the Chemistry prize is tricky, since it’s so often used as a surrogate for the nonexistent Biology prize (and, once in a while, as an overflow Physics one as well). But let’s take a look at the field and see if the Scandinavians surprise us or not.
The two best roundups I’ve seen so far are from the Wall Street Journal and Thomson/Reuters. For Chemistry, the Journal has a pair of biology prize possibilities going to (1) Hartl and Horwich for chaperone proteins, or (2) Winter and Lerner for antibodies (humanized, monoclonal, catalytic). They also have a material-science one for Matyjaszewski (atom-transfer radical polymerization). Note that that last Wikipedia entry seems to show (at least as of this morning) the hand of an interested editor.
Meanwhile, the Thomson people, using a citation-based algorithm, have no overlaps with this list at all. They suggest (1) Michael Grätzel (dye-based solar cells), (2) Jackie Barton, Bernd Giese, and Gary Schuster (electron transfer in DNA), or (3) Benjamin List (asymmetric catalysis).
And over at the Chem Blog, the current favorites are Grätzel and also Richard Zare, Allan Bard, and William Moerner for single-molecule spectroscopy. Those last two have already picked up the Wolf Prize in Chemistry for that work in 2008, and Zare won one in 2005. It’s worth noting that Richard Lerner, from the Thomson list, won back in 1994-1995, along with Peter Schultz, who also is often mentioned when Nobel time comes around.
I think that Grätzel is a good bet, considering that the work seems solid and that solar power is such a hot topic these days. I would like to see Bernd Giese get in on a prize, since I did my post-doc with him, but I consider the electron-transfer work to be more of a long shot, at least for now. List is probably the best shot at a “pure organic chemistry” prize; although I also doubt that this is the way it’ll go this year. As always, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if things bleed over from biology – the committee might go as far as to consider telomeres to be chemicals and give it to Blackburn, Greider, and Szostak. And that’s certainly worth an award, just not in Chemistry.
We’ll know soon. Feel free to put your favorites into the comments, and I’ll update this post with the list of suggestions. One of has to get it right, you’d think.