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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

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May 6, 2011

The Top 100 Chemists?

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Posted by Derek

I'm never sure of how useful these rankings are, but here's Thomson Reuters' rankings of the top 100 chemists of the last ten years. This is based on publications and their impact/citation rate.

Looking over the list, I think that there are some artifacts in it, and boy, don't metal-organic frameworks and nanotech just rate like crazy? But it's an interesting starting point for discussion, especially when you note how (relatively) few organic and synthetic organic chemists make the upper reaches. Thoughts?

Comments (31) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Scientific Literature


1. Hap on May 6, 2011 1:26 PM writes...

I don't know that it's that bad - there were (by my count) about 16 synthetic organic people - NUM 11, 14, 16, 22, 26, 27, 34, 43, 52, 71, 73, 77, 79, 80, 84, 90), some borderline ones (4, 8, 33, 36), and some I don't know well enough to be sure. That doesn't seem ridiculously out of proportion, though citations do seem to love MOF and surface people.

There doesn't seem to be much for total synthesis, though (no Baran, and only one relatively hardcore total syn person - NUM 79). Citations, though, don't really flatter total syn, anyway, so it's not unexpected, though it does point out a weakness of the measure, perhaps.

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2. Curious Wavefunction on May 6, 2011 2:24 PM writes...

I am pretty skeptical of the list since many of the usual suspects seem to be missing. Of course I am skeptical of citations too since anyone who jumps on the latest chemical genetics/nanotechnology/MOF bandwagon will tend to cite papers from that field even if they are not particularly significant or groundbreaking. And of course, there are a total of four women on that list. Is it really that bad, even when you include biochemists (which tend to have a greater proportion of women among their ranks)?

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3. Nick K on May 6, 2011 2:27 PM writes...

What,I'm not on it?!

Seriously though, why on Earth do editors ALWAYS use those crappy stock photos of aqueous solutions in beakers and erlenmeyers when chemistry is mentioned?

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4. Phil on May 6, 2011 2:44 PM writes...

As Hap and CW point out, citation number is a flawed measure of a PI's significance. Sharpless probably deserves to be ranked highly, but I have a feeling he is #4 mostly because click chemistry is so widely cited in fields outside of chemistry. Fokin landing #9 can ONLY be explained by this phenomenon.

Overall, I put very little stock in this list.

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5. pete on May 6, 2011 2:50 PM writes...

In support of the quiet geniuses out there, it occurs to me that the algorithm behind this ranking may exclude those who publish infrequently -- let's say 5 - 20 papers, total -- but when they do, each one's a gem.

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6. canchem on May 6, 2011 4:27 PM writes...

I never assign any use to any of these lists. The only consolation I got from that list was that quantity wasn't the sole determinant, as demonstrated by Nicolaou's absence...

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7. Anonymous on May 6, 2011 4:45 PM writes...

Hey, where are the chemists from India and China on that list? I think someone (with an MBA) told me that all the great chemists in the world were over there. I'm confused..........

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8. AlchemistOrganique on May 6, 2011 6:33 PM writes...

I'm somewhat surprised by the absence of noteworthy chemical biologists such as Carolyn Bertozzi, Laura Kiessling, and Jackie Barton. Obviously, the list is not limited to the "traditional" divisions of chemistry (A, I, O, and P) since Schreiber is mentioned. Also a bunch of total synthesis deities (e.g., Trost, Ley, Boger, Overman, to name a few) have been snubbed along with leaders in alternative energy (Nocera, Gray) and materials science (Swager, Stoddart). What about the "young guns" (Baran, Sanford, MC White)? Gosh, this name dropping is making me nauseous...better stop now.

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9. polymer bound on May 6, 2011 6:35 PM writes...

...more like top 100 salesmen.

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10. dvizard on May 6, 2011 6:55 PM writes...

I'm not entirely surprised, but still not quite at ease with the fact that 90%+ of the elected work in the US.

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11. coprolite on May 6, 2011 9:49 PM writes...

This is the worst looking list I ever saw, I'll bet you buy a list like that you get a free bowl of looks good on you though

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12. Useless Molecule on May 7, 2011 5:09 AM writes...

I am somewhat pleased to not see you know who from Scripps and his almost-all useless papers describing useless total syntheses of useless natural products.

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13. A Nonny Mouse on May 7, 2011 6:35 AM writes...

(20) is a Welshman! Didn't seem that good as an undergrad!

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14. Anonymous on May 7, 2011 6:35 AM writes...


Precisely. It is often stated that total synthesis is important because it produces new reactions with broader applicability. Yet very few total synthesis profs have made it onto this list.

Conclusion: most total synthesis serves no wider purpose whatsoever.

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15. Jose on May 7, 2011 7:47 AM writes...

re previous comment, anyone want to start a list of general & robust reactions that were truly developed during a TS?

1. (Nozaki–Hiyama) Kishi couplings and palytoxin

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16. K. Cordoba on May 7, 2011 9:32 AM writes...

Barbas, Liszt, Jorgensen, McMillan?

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17. @Useless Molecule on May 7, 2011 3:36 PM writes...

Aw, don't be too harsh on you-know-who. His group has actually published some decent methods papers, including one showing that IBX can do everything (snark).

@Jose: Stoichiometric chromium...mmm. I've done a few NHK's before...protecting-group friendly, but mediocre diastereoselectivity.

@13: Hey Nonny, Nonny. What's up with the disdain for the Cymry? There have been/are plenty of capable Welsh chemists, such as Ewart Jones (of the namesake oxidation) and John Meurig Thomas (catalysis and spectroscopy). Cymru am byth!

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18. Timothy on May 7, 2011 4:33 PM writes...

I work down the hall from Banglin Chen, nice guy, but his group hasn't published anything in like two years.

I think the list has accomplished what it wanted to - compiled a list by most citations for chemists with 50 or more papers in the last 10 years. A better question is whether or not that's a relevant metric - I'd say not. Not only does it leave off some up-and-comers like mentioned in #8 (and I'd add maybe DuBois to that list), but it also neglects folks who've had really successful students like, say, Scott Denmark or Erick Carreira. People cite who it's popular to cite, so trendiness is going to be a big driver for lists like this.

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19. Anonymous on May 8, 2011 12:58 PM writes...

Who will get Nobel prizes in this list?
No many, I guess

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20. Anonymous on May 8, 2011 6:42 PM writes...

Publish, publish or perish!!! Bean count...get those numbers up and perhaps get your name on the 100 list. That's what it's about, not talent, impact or ability. This is where we're headed. SAD!! But always remember...justice always prevails in the end...

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21. Useless Molecule on May 8, 2011 8:41 PM writes...

@ 19 Anonymous

In this list, in the foreseable future, only #38 (Whitesides) will get it.

Some people, mostly graduate students who are not able to think outside their own worlds, will go as far as predicting something for organocatalysis. For example a 1/3-1/3-1/3 Nobel for MacMillan-Jacobsen, with Barbas or List, one would be left out.

Forget that, no tangible impact on the field yet, just publications, and lots of it, JACS and ACIEE etc. But the truth of the matter is that we don't need that sub-science, we don't need at all. It doesn't solve a problem and it doesn't give us access to something otherwise unreachable.

And it was there long time ago.

So you can't really give a Nobel prize "for resuscitating of a sub-field that gives access to easy JACS but useless for any other purposes"

It was totally different for Suzuki and Heck and Negishi. We use this on a daily basis.

How many years it will take before people use organocatalysis everyday?

Buchwald-Hartwig will win the second metal coupling-related Nobel before MacMillan-Jacobsen get's a chance.

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22. anchor on May 9, 2011 8:27 AM writes...

#21- I agree with your opinion that Prof. George Whitesides may get one and perhaps well deserved. As for others like Buchwald, Hartwig, MacMillian and the rest at best are long short. Anyway some aspects of their chemistry are indeed good but truth be told are improvement to the previous discoveries borrowing on Ulmann's, Goldberg, Hajosh chemistry.

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23. RB Woodweird on May 9, 2011 8:50 AM writes...

This is the greatest assemblage of chemical genius since Woodward dined alone.

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24. leftscienceawhileago on May 9, 2011 9:21 AM writes...

If this blog had stars for comments, I've give all of mine to you RB.

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25. David Formerly Known as a Chemist on May 9, 2011 9:56 AM writes...

The list was amusing enough, but the introductory paragraph to the article was funnier yet. Or sad, depending on your current state of affairs...yes, this is the International Year of Chemistry! Doesn't that make you proud?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) have proclaimed 2011 the International Year of Chemistry. During the year, celebrations and special events will be held around the globe “to increase the public appreciation of chemistry in meeting world needs, to encourage interest in chemistry among young people, and to generate enthusiasm for the creative future of chemistry."

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26. Hap on May 9, 2011 10:04 AM writes...

15: Stork-Danheiser alkylation? (alkoxyenones and Grignards to beta-alkyl enones)? I think it was developed in the synthesis of b-vetivone.

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27. Josh on May 9, 2011 10:12 AM writes...

Pretty soon it will being "The 100 Remaining Chemists"

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28. PC on May 9, 2011 3:09 PM writes...

what a joke. Greg Fu is the ~40th ranked chemist in the world?

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29. Pierre on May 9, 2011 4:19 PM writes...

28+1. It's really a joke! D. Astruc is 73th ranked chemist in the world ! and where are the Kagan, Lehn ... for the french side ? This type of classification reveals the shortcomings of bibliometric tools which are so fond of our governmental tutorships.

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30. Pierre on May 9, 2011 4:21 PM writes...

28+1. It's really a joke! D. Astruc is 73th ranked chemist in the world ! and where are the Kagan, Lehn ... for the french side ? This type of classification reveals the shortcomings of bibliometric tools which are so fond our governmental tutorships.

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31. Anonymous on May 10, 2011 11:34 AM writes...

I love this list - no matter how you rank them, at least a few hundred arrogant jerk profs who expected to be #1 are guaranteed to be upset!

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