The Kornberg Nobel seems to have set off some "whither chemistry" noises over here (see the comments to this post). I wanted to highlight an especially provocative one:
Derek, I hope I don't offend my chemist colleagues (I'm myself a former chemist), but as a chemist you have to realize that Chemistry is a science of a lesser public impact. Done at the edges of important matters, it's physics, done at the edges of interesting issues, it becomes biology. You ask for the final explanation of matter and energy and you are a physicist, you are interested in the beauty and complexity of life, you are a biologist. Sorry, chemistry is a practical science, but today its mostly a set of tools.
Hey, I did say it was provocative. As you'd guess, I don't agree, but that doesn't mean that I don't understand this point of view. There seem to be a fair number of chemists with similar sinking feelings, to judge from the letters that show up from time to time in Chemical and Engineering News. The problem is, the same argument by exclusion slice-and-dice can be applied to any other scientific discipline, so long as you define its edges by labeling the things around it as "important" and "interesting".
I could turn things the other way by wondering if, then, some of the important parts of physics are the parts that overlap with chemistry, and some of the most interesting parts of biology are the ones that do likewise. But I don't want to get into a shouting contest about whose work is most useful or exciting, because I don't think it gets us anywhere to talk in those terms.
For me, chemistry is the science that deals with behavior of systems on a molecular level. As you go down to the atomic level, you get into physics (and by the time you're in the subatomic range, you're in physics up to your eyebrows). As you go up from single molecules to larger and larger molecular systems, you start to shade into biology, because the largest and most complicated of those we know about are living organisms.
So rather than bemoan these other disciplines poaching on chemistry's territory, or decide that all the good stuff belongs to them and that chemistry is left with nothing, I'd prefer to think that the field is in an excellent position. We're just at where both those other fields start to get really tough. Look at physics - you can do quantum mechanics on single isolated particles, but once you start bringing in more of them, things get very sticky very quickly. That's why there are all those molecular modeling programs, each full of its own assumptions and approximations, because that's the only way you can approach the calculations at all. Moving up from single particles to atoms and on to molecules is a huge leap in complexity.
And as for biology, the complexity has become more apparent by movement in the other direction. If you thought classical zoology or botany were pretty tangled up, take a look at them on the molecular level! Biology has made tremendous advances through the treatment of its smallest mechanical parts as real molecules behaving chemically. Look at the med-chem concept of a receptor - it was a revelation when people finally realized that this wasn't just a convenient bit of mental shorthand, but a concept that reflected an actual physical entity. And of course, the question of when a collection of molecular machines can be considered a living organism has set off arguments for decades.
No, being in the middle of the range has its advantages. These folks are in our territory because there's so much here to attract them. As chemists, we have to realize this and make the most of it, not sit around moaning about how other people are hogging the spotlight.