So we come upon Nobel season again. As I do every year, I'm going to throw the comments section open for nominations for who should (and who shouldn't!) get the prize in Chemistry this year. We may well have a trapdoor open on us again, since some years the committee uses the Chemistry prize as a dumping ground for spare biology prizes, but we'll see how it goes.
If we do get a chemistry prize this time, my money is against my own field, synthetic organic chemistry. In fact, long-term, I'm betting against it, unless the work has a hook into some broader story. That could be nanotechnology, drug discovery (wouldn't that be nice?), advances in materials science, energy storage or conversion, and the like. But I don't see many (any?) prizes being given out for straight organic synthesis, the way E. J. Corey's was. I think that the time for that has indeed passed.
But there's room for a prize or two in synthetic methods, I have to say, a sort of H. C. Brown-type prize. A lot of people have waited to see if palladium couplings would get one, for example. I think that metal-catalyzed couplings are definitely worthy of the recognition - they've taken over the world to a degree that younger chemists can't realize - but I don't know if the Nobel committee has ever been able to unravel the prize distribution to where they feel safe with it.
That's a problem in several areas (drug discovery being another example where credit is often spread around). Individual researchers can end up in the same boat, which is the usual opinion about, say, George Whitesides of Harvard. He's done a lot of very interesting work over the years, but it's been in several rather different areas. I think we can use all of those sorts of scientists we can get, myself, but the profile doesn't match up well with what the Nobel folks are looking for.
So, place your bets, folks. For reference, the Thomson/Reuters folks have a short list of their own, based on literature citations: Charles Leiber of Harvard for nanotech, Roger Tsien of UCSD for green fluorescent protein, and Krzysztof Matyjaszewski of Carnegie Mellon for atom-transfer radical polymerization.