About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
Not Voodoo

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
Realizations in Biostatistics
ChemSpider Blog
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa

Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net

Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« Charges in the TMS Diazomethane Case | Main | Wisterone: A Structure I Can't Believe »

September 28, 2010

Nobel Season 2010

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

As we head towards October, the thoughts of a very select group of scientists may be turning to their chances of winning a Nobel Prize - and the thoughts of the rest of us turn to laying odds on the winners. I've handicapped the race here before (here's the 2009 version), and that's one place to start a list. Another excellent roundup can be found over at Chembark, and another well-annotated one at the Curious Wavefunction. Meanwhile, Thomson/Reuters sent me their citation-voodoo list the other day, but to my eyes, they're always a bit off the mark.

So who are the favorites? Last year I mentioned Zare, Bard, and Moerner for single-atom spectroscopy, and I think that after a run of biology-laced prizes that a swing back over to nearly-physics is pretty plausible. If the committee is going to stick with nearly-biology, then perhaps humanized antibodies, microarrays, or chaperone proteins will make it in, but I really don't think that this is the year (in the Chemistry prize, anyway). On the chemistry/medicine interface, there's always the chance that the committee could turn around and honor Carl Djerassi after all these years, but that's the only med-chem themed prize I can see. I think the chances of a pure organic synthesis prize are very low indeed - and that includes palladium-catalyzed couplings, too, unfortunately. There are too many people deserving of credit there, "too many" meaning "more than three" for Nobel purposes, and not all of them are still alive.

The more I think about it, the more skeptical I am of a Nobel for dye-based solar cells (Grätzel et al.) or any form of asymmetric catalysis this year. If anything, the committee waits too long before recognizing things, and it's just too early for these (and some other ideas floating around out there). The Thomson/Reuters list seems to be very big on metal-organic framework materials, for example, and I just don't see it. Waiting too long is a problem, but giving trendy things out too soon can be an even bigger one.

On the other end of the scale, I used to confidently predict a Nobel for RNA interference (in one field or another), and they finally took care of that one. The only Nobel I feel similarly sure of is in Physics, for the "dark energy" finding that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. At some point that one's going to win - maybe when there's more of an explanation for it, although that could be a bit of a wait. This is an area where I and the Thomson/Reuters people agree (and a lot of physicists seem to go along, too).

Want to make your own odds? This Chembark post is a fine overview of the factors involved. Suggestions welcome in the comments from anyone who feels as if their psychic powers are tuned up. . .

Comments (46) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Chemical News | General Scientific News


1. Wavefunction on September 28, 2010 7:43 AM writes...

My usual two cents

Permalink to Comment

2. Anonymous on September 28, 2010 7:51 AM writes...

Apparently the Simpsons writers agree with Zare. But Ben Feringa? Methinks not likely.

Permalink to Comment

3. Derek Lowe on September 28, 2010 8:01 AM writes...

Just added your fine list to the main post, Wavefunction!

Permalink to Comment

4. Wavefunction on September 28, 2010 9:09 AM writes...


Permalink to Comment

5. RB Woodweird on September 28, 2010 9:26 AM writes...

Physics: Carol Saltonstall, for the production of a Bose-Einstein condensate with the addition of strange quarks which is roughly the size of a baseball.

Permalink to Comment

6. startup on September 28, 2010 11:16 AM writes...

I just hope that I'll be able to tell apart Chemistry and Medicine prize this time around. And for the love of God, give it to Heck before it's too late.

Permalink to Comment

7. MLBpitcher_and_MedicinalChemist on September 28, 2010 12:06 PM writes...

I don't know about the Nobel Prize, but I do know that Derek Lowe is not going to get the NL Cy Young. That will be Roy Halladay. (Who is known as "Doc Halladay" and does not have a real PhD like Derek Lowe)

I like nuclear hormone signaling the best.

But I think Alan Guth (and Andrei Linde) should get a Nobel in Physics for his work on cosmology and their suggestion for cosmic inflation.

Permalink to Comment

8. KC Nicolaou on September 28, 2010 12:29 PM writes...

I voted for me, but I doubt I'll win. The red tide is against me.

Permalink to Comment

9. Hap on September 28, 2010 2:07 PM writes...

If they give it to Heck, someone ought to know beforehand - won't they have to send someone out to his home in the wilds of the Philippines?

Permalink to Comment

10. Aspirin on September 28, 2010 3:38 PM writes...

Maybe they will have to send out someone to make sure the old man is not off his rocker, just like they sent out someone to check up on John Nash's sanity.

Permalink to Comment

11. Kemi on September 28, 2010 6:29 PM writes...

I would predict true cross-coupling pioneers, such as Suzuki, Heck, etc.

Permalink to Comment

12. ronathan richardson on September 28, 2010 7:30 PM writes...

Moerner and Zare for single molecule seems to be where the smart money is.

I think biology will be a career achievement type of prize this year, not a technology one--either Rothman and Schekman or Ptashne or Weinberg.

Permalink to Comment

13. A on September 28, 2010 7:51 PM writes...

Pd-couplings is my bet

Permalink to Comment

14. The Second Coming on September 28, 2010 9:45 PM writes...

Obviously, the committee can no longer deny Al Gore of his second Nobel, even though he may have had the data massaged.

Permalink to Comment

15. InfMP on September 28, 2010 11:35 PM writes...

comment 8 made me laugh so hard.

Pd better win soon. Au, Ni and Cu are getting awfully useful...and Ag is starting to gain speed

Fe sucks.

Permalink to Comment

16. homocat on September 29, 2010 4:13 AM writes...

this year, J Backvall is coming back in the commitee for the selection of the chem prize
so we could hope that a more organic theme will be recognized, and more specifically cross-coupling reactions, my bet on Heck Suzuki and Trost ...

for MOF : Ferey , Kitagawa and Yaghi
for pure org chem : Evans, DAnishefski, Eschenmoser
for green rules : Anastas Sheldon Trost

Permalink to Comment

17. KinaseNerd on September 29, 2010 4:58 AM writes...

I still believe in a "bioorganic" career achievement-type award for Schreiber. Aside from how you value Schreiber's specific contributions, his fundamental impact on how "young" chemists today think about the interplay between synthetic organic chemistry and biology is undeniable. Just think about all these "bioorganic" cross-disciplinary university departments which still keep appearing not only in the US but also in Europe.

Even during my own university days only about a decade ago (in Europe) most synthetic organic chemistry groups were using biological questions at best for their introductory sentence in a total synthesis publication. No one would have bothered to really do something with those compounds they were trying to synthesize (aside from maybe trying to sell them to a pharma company). I think that this mindset did change dramatically and Stuart Schreiber was probably the most influential pioneer for this change.

Permalink to Comment

18. sepisp on September 29, 2010 8:49 AM writes...

Grätzel already won the Millennium Technology Prize - I was there to see his lecture. I don't know whether this would increase or decrease his chances, though. On the other hand the Nobel committee might think he's been awarded already, but on the other hand they might award him just to step on the toes of the Finns.

Permalink to Comment

19. Thomas Ranno on September 29, 2010 9:20 AM writes...

Dear Sir
I am holding the cure for addiction
to Opioids.
Thomas Ranno
201-788-2262 Cell
973-233-6742 Office

Permalink to Comment

20. Anonymous on September 29, 2010 9:58 AM writes...

"Aside from how you value Schreiber's specific contributions, his fundamental impact on how "young" chemists today think about the interplay between synthetic organic chemistry and biology is undeniable."

Yes, Schreiber's influence is undeniable -- it has been undeniably bad. He has ruined a generation of people coming out of his lab, who literally do not know how to do science -- or rather, have been indoctrinated to believe that science consists of (1) inventing jargon, (2) showing pictures of screening equipment, (3) synthesizing complex molecules for no clear reason, and (4) plotting the data in such a way that everything is obfuscated. It is tragic to see these people give job talks -- they are just unprepared to do real science. As a friend of mine once said, what these candidates don't understand is that they are reciting a recipe that doesn't work outside of Schreiberia.

It would be awful for science if Schreiber was rewarded with the Nobel. The point of science is to make things clearer -- not to kick up a bunch of dust and constantly obfuscate the real issues.

Permalink to Comment

21. Aspirin on September 29, 2010 10:02 AM writes...

Anon 20: Sure, his role in the discovery of mTOR, calcineurin, FKBP, HDAC and small molecule dimerizers to name a few means nothing. That record screams "generation ruin" doesn't it.

Permalink to Comment

22. Anonymous on September 29, 2010 10:34 AM writes...


Try reading what I wrote.

I was responding to the statement from #17 -- which I quoted -- asserting that "ASIDE from how you value Schreiber's specific contributions", his impact on the thinking of young scientists has been positive and deserves a Nobel prize. That statement is nuts.

We can debate his role in the specific discoveries you cited, and whether he deserves a Nobel for them. But that has nothing to do with what I wrote.

If we were having that other debate, I would point out that Schreiber didn't discover TOR -- not even close, although he likes to insinuate otherwise -- and that the HDAC work was performed in his lab by Jack Taunton with basically no input from Schreiber (which is why Schreiber disappeared from the histone field immediately after HDAC was cloned). The dimerizer/calcineurin work is really nice -- but probably not worthy of a Nobel (although this can be debated). Regardless, these things have nothing to do with what I wrote about -- which is how his bizarre view of science (and associated jargon) has pervaded the chemical biology community and scientifically disabled many of the people who trained in his lab.

Permalink to Comment

23. Vader on September 29, 2010 10:59 AM writes...

"The only Nobel I feel similarly sure of is in Physics, for the "dark energy" finding that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. At some point that one's going to win - maybe when there's more of an explanation for it, although that could be a bit of a wait."

Probably. The Nobel physics committee has in recent decades been shy of awarding a prize that might come back and embarrass them later if it proves premature. There are still a few skeptics of cosmic acceleration (who I think are wrong, by the way) so the prize will likely wait a bit.

Permalink to Comment

24. Amadeus on September 29, 2010 5:31 PM writes...

Has Schrieber produced one decent student or postdoc that has gone on to become a good and productive faculty member? I cannot think of any at the moment....

Permalink to Comment

25. Donna on September 30, 2010 1:11 AM writes...


Mark Albers, Derek Tan, Laura Kiessling, Tim Jamison, to name a few of his former grad students

Permalink to Comment

26. Sammy on September 30, 2010 1:52 AM writes...

Amir Hoveyda, John Porco, James Chen, Michael Rosen, Tarek Sammakia, Jack Taunton, Brent Stockwell, Greg Weiss, Randy Peterson, Tom Wandless..

Permalink to Comment

27. KinaseNerd on September 30, 2010 3:12 AM writes...

I couldn't disgree more with what you stated, though your rather harsh rebuttal already proves my point of Schreiber's influence on our thinking. Otherwise you wouldn't care so much.

However, there is one interesting point in your statement regarding candidates coming from his lab. Indeed, I have heard many people complain about applicants coming from "bioorganic-type" labs. Chemists usually complain that those applicants don't know how to do "real" synthesis. Biochemists complain about their lack of technical skills regarding bioanalytical methods and so on.

In real life however, I see lots of hard core chemists trying to synthesize compounds for now reason at all or biochemist doing studies with tool compounds which somebody with chemical know-how would not even touch. Obviously there still is a need to bridge those two areas. Schreiber (and maybe Schultz) are the pioneers how built that bridge at the university level.

I don't care about their spin doctor attitude. Yes, they need to sell what they are doing. Yes, they invent nomenclature. Nobody forces you to use this kind of spin.

Permalink to Comment

28. Electric on September 30, 2010 6:33 AM writes...

Whether Schreiber deserves a Nobel is something that can be debated for hours - without a clear resolution. However, it is undeniable that his contributions to the fields of chemical biology and also in cell biology are seminal. A hundred years from now, when textbooks on Chemical biology are written, it will be nearly impossible to omit his name from those who may be considered the founding members of this approach to biology. In cell biology, anyone who claims that Schreiber did not discover mTOR (Schreiber called it FRAP) has not read the primary literature on this subject or simply does not understand it. Jack Taunton was indeed the prime player in identifying and cloning HDAC but does anybody in their right mind think that Jack himself would deny Schreiber due credit? It was accomplished in Schreiber lab - period. That kind of intellectual fearlessness, where synthetic chemists have identified a key biological question - and solved it unambiguously is quintessentially Schreiber. Also do not forget the identity of Calcineurin as the molecular target of the immunosuppressant cyclosporin - also done in Schreiber lab - and eventually this work led to the development of dimerizers - which are very useful tools in cell biology.

As to the people coming out of Schreiber lab. Have a good look and you will find a steady roster of people who are doing excellent work in Chemistry and almost all fields of Biology - including those such as neurobiology and structural biology. His past graduate students like Mike Rosen and Jack Taunton are HHMI investigators. Moreover, if you go through the roster of tenured faculty at the very top universities and departments, you will find dozens of Schreiber alumni that doing rather well and contributing robustly to their area of research. Again, the most interesting aspect of Schreiber-way of thinking is not chemical biology but "intellectual fearlessness". That is already reflected in the steady progress made by his students - especially his graduate students who spent 5-7 years with him (in contrast to postdocs, who were often on their way to great jobs in less than 3 years). Lastly do not forget, that Schreiber is still very young - he was tenured before the age of 30!! It would be quite naive if not downright foolish to count him out yet. Nobel or not, his legacy is quite secure and like the old saying from the east goes: "Dogs bark but the Caravan moves on".

Permalink to Comment

29. Modeler on September 30, 2010 9:26 AM writes...

I agree; Nobel or not, Schreiber's place in the annals of chemical biology is assured. He was definitely one of the very first, if not the first, who definitively showed the value of attacking important biological problems with synthetic chemistry and related tools.

Permalink to Comment

30. Goldfish on September 30, 2010 2:54 PM writes...

Electric, well said!

Permalink to Comment

31. befuddled on October 1, 2010 4:16 PM writes...

I think someone at one of the other linked lists mentioned Endo for statins, and I second that suggestion. Surely one of the most important classes of drugs in decades.

If Baltimore didn't already have a nobel, they might have to give him one for NF-kB.

But barring Endo getting it for statins, the Physiology/Medicine award should go for TLRs/pattern recognition receptors in immunology.

Permalink to Comment

32. newnickname on October 2, 2010 11:42 AM writes...

#18, Re: Grätzel

I still think that Honda - Fujishima deserve it before Grätzel or anyone else trying to exploit their discovery. Grad student Fujishima observes an unexpected effect (1967), Honda supports getting "sidetracked" and they figure out what it is (Nature, 1972).

It was an important discovery and an important example of "basic research" following the science, not following a rigid, agency approved research plan.

Permalink to Comment

33. homo faber on October 4, 2010 5:28 AM writes...

We should have a click chemistry nobel prize. This is affecting the chemistry and chemical biology landscape strongly.

Permalink to Comment

34. homocat on October 4, 2010 7:39 AM writes...

i really think green chem principles will be awarded
for green rules : P. Anastas R. Sheldon B. M. Trost

If click is awarded, it should go to Huisgen before Sharpless

Permalink to Comment

35. Me on October 4, 2010 5:52 PM writes...

This is the committee for 2010:

Nobel Committee for Chemistry 2010

Lars Thelander (Chairman)
Professor Emeritus in Physiological Chemistry

Astrid Gräslund (Member, Secretary)
Professor of Biophysics

Jan-Erling Bäckvall (Member)
Professor of Organic Chemistry

MÃ¥ns Ehrenberg (Member)
Professor of Molecular Biology

Sven Lidin (Member)
Professor of Inorganic Chemistry

Backvall is a card carrying Palladium chemist so if Dick Heck doesn't win it now, he won't. He is old enough that there won't be any more opportunities. I still don't get the "there are too many" The real pioneers here were Heck, Kumada, Corriu and Tsuji and the rest of the people basically built up from those results. Hell, Heck even did a Suzuki reaction before Suzuzki did and a Sonogashira before Sonoagashira. The guy who brought Palladium to the masses was Dick Heck at the Welch Confernce back in the early 1970's. That is where the rubber met the road in front of 1100 influential organic chemists. I have to imagine many used the Diels-Alder between 1927 and the Nobel ceremony and many of those became famous in the interim. Many used Wittig's and Brown's reagents to great acclaim, but only those two won the award.

The ultimate truth is that there is no issue of any reputable journal of organic chemistry (make that chemistry) that does not reflect some aspect of the revolution that Dick Heck fueled on so many levels. The effects of Palladium chemistry are felt on nearly every project in every industrial lab and its uses run the gamut of Organic Chemistry from A to Z. There is no other unawarded prize so deserving of recognition and to not award it because the committee cannot pick the 3 most influential living Palladium Chemists is a sad commentary on their political skills. They managed to decide on 3 for asymmetric synthesis, they should do so here.

Permalink to Comment

36. homacat on October 5, 2010 1:59 AM writes...

if They managed to decide on 3 for cross-coupling, they should choose :
Corriu (the first example of cross coupling reaction with the late Kumada)

Permalink to Comment

37. petros on October 5, 2010 10:22 AM writes...

Medicine and Physic down (both to UK based scientists), Chemistry tomorrow

Patrick Steptoe for IVF (at age 85 his chances were running out)

Andre Geim, and Konstantin Novoselov, for one atom thick material called grapheme; Geim is only 36

Permalink to Comment

38. hn on October 5, 2010 1:41 PM writes...

Novoselov is 36.

Permalink to Comment

39. DaveMac3 on October 5, 2010 2:12 PM writes...

Robert Edwards for IVF

Permalink to Comment

40. The Mystery of the Discovery of TOR on October 5, 2010 9:35 PM writes...

In 1991, Michael Hall published in Science a yeast screen for mutants that were resistant to rapamycin. He isolated two closely related genes. He named these new proteins the "target of rapamycin" 1 and 2. He showed that rapamycin toxicity also required FKBP and proposed (based on genetics!) that this could be explained if FKBP and TOR formed a complex. He noted that TOR was a kinase based on sequence homology. That's the story, in one paper.

In 1994, three groups simultaneously isolated the mammalian homolog of the yeast TOR that Hall had discovered three years earlier. One was David Sabatini working in Sol Snyder's lab, and David called the protein "RAFT1". Another was Schreiber's lab, and they called the protein "FRAP." Another was Bob Abraham and he called the protein "mTOR". Abraham was actually the third to publish, but his name stuck -- probably because it most honestly acknowledged the fact that "mTOR" and "TOR" are for all practical purposes the same protein.

Hall went on for the next 15 years to contribute more than anyone else to elucidating the mTOR pathway. Sabatini, after he left Snyder's lab, also made some really important contributions. As for Sol Snyder and Schreiber...not so much in this particular area.

The discovery of perturbagens on the other hand -- for that Stuart deserves full credit.

Permalink to Comment

41. homocat on October 6, 2010 4:54 AM writes...

so great news for org chem homogeneous catalysis

I was almost 100% true with Heck Suzuki and Trost ...

a special think to Buchwald and Hartwig who runned after it ...

Permalink to Comment

42. Jose on October 6, 2010 6:50 AM writes...

Finally!! Cheers for all three. Too bad Stille and Sonogoshira can't be around to share it.

Permalink to Comment

43. Anonymous on October 6, 2010 7:17 AM writes...

I think cheers came from labs around the globe when this got out...

Permalink to Comment

44. London Chemist on October 6, 2010 7:17 AM writes...

"Finally!! Cheers for all three. Too bad Stille and Sonogoshira can't be around to share it."

I think Nobel rules limit each prize to no more than three recipients, so to include one of those would have meant dropping one of the actual winners.

Permalink to Comment

45. KC Nicolaou on October 6, 2010 8:40 AM writes...


Permalink to Comment

46. natural skin care on August 8, 2014 1:10 AM writes...

This paragraph offers clear idea in support of the new viewers of blogging,
that really how to do running a blog.

Permalink to Comment


Remember Me?


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

The Last Post
The GSK Layoffs Continue, By Proxy
The Move is Nigh
Another Alzheimer's IPO
Cutbacks at C&E News
Sanofi Pays to Get Back Into Oncology
An Irresponsible Statement About Curing Cancer
Oliver Sacks on Turning Back to Chemistry