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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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September 26, 2013

Nobel Speculation Time

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Posted by Derek

As we approach October, Nobel Speculation Season is upon us again. And Ash is right at Curious Wavefunction - making the predictions gets easier every year, because you get to keep the lists you had from before, with maybe a name or two removed because they actually won. Paul at Chembark usually does a long post on the subject this time of year, but he seems to have his hands full (understandably!) getting his academic lab set up and teaching his courses the first time through.

The Thomson Reuters people have made their annual predictions, based on citation counts and such measures, and so far every other article I've seen in the press is based on their lists. Some years I speculate myself, so for what they're worth, here's my 2011 list, here's 2010, here's 2009, 2008, and 2006.

What's the landscape like this year? Thomson/Reuters have made a bold case for Sharpless/Folkin/Finn for the Huisgen-style "click" chemistry. I know that the thought has crossed my mind before (and shown up in the comments here before as well, several times). A second Nobel for Sharpless would be quite a feat, and it really says something that people consider it a possibility. John Bardeen got Physics twice, and Sanger got Chemistry twice. Marie Curie's the only person to win in two different sciences. (And yes, there's Pauling, the only winner of two unshared prizes, but one of them was Peace, which has too often been a real eye-roller of an award). R. B. Woodward, had he lived, would certainly have won Chemistry twice, since there was an award for the Woodward-Hoffman rules after his death.

Thomson/Reuters also proposes Alvisatros/Mirkin/Seeman for a DNA nanotechnology prize in chemistry, and Bruce Ames for the Ames mutagenicity test. (Man, it feels strange to link to something that I blogged about eleven years ago!) Of those two, I think Ames is a better bet, since he really did change the field of toxicology forever. It would make more sense for a physiology/medicine prize, but we all know how things go. On the other hand, I think that the DNA nanoparticle work will be given a chance to have a greater real-world impact before it gets a prize.

I like the Wavefunction picks a lot, too. He's looking at single-molecule spectroscopy for a physical/analytical chemistry prize, and he points out that surface plasmon resonance and solid-state NMR (among other NMR methods) haven't won, either. Considering the 2002 prize to Fenn for electrospray MS, these are very plausible, although I have to say that LC/MS (considering the way it's taken over the analytical world in the last 20 years) made that one a clear choice. His other top picks are nuclear receptors, electron transfer in biological systems, chaperone proteins, cancer genetics, and some sort of chemical biology prize. I wouldn't be a bit surprised at any of those - like the palladium-coupling prize, the biggest problem will be figuring out who to award some of these to, not determining whether they're worthy of winning.

My own guess? From the Thomson/Reuters and Wavefunction lists, I like Ames, nuclear receptors, single-molecule spectroscopy, and chaperone proteins. Just behind those are electron transfer and then the triazole click work. I don't see an organic synthesis prize at all; I think this is going to be physical/analytical if it's going to be inside the traditional bounds of chemistry. And with that in mind, the committee might just use the chemistry prize for Venter et al. on DNA sequencing methods, or for Solomon Snyder et al. on neurotransmitters. We shall see!

Comments (62) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: General Scientific News


1. Anonymous on September 26, 2013 8:30 AM writes...

My bet's on Putin for the Peace Prize: Maybe they will just give him Obama's to save the effort of casting a new medal!

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2. Anonymous on September 26, 2013 8:35 AM writes...

I vote Greg Winter's humanized antibodies for Medicine, given that Humira is now the biggest selling drug.

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3. Anonymous on September 26, 2013 8:49 AM writes...

Some of the lists have "Cancer Genetics" but I think the prize will actually be worded for the "Discovery of Tumor Suppressor Genes" since an oncogene prize was already given to Bishop and Varmus.

The winners will be:

Alfred Knudson - two hit hypothesis

Robert Weinberg - Discovery of first inherited tumor suppressor gene (Rb)

Bert Vogelstein - Discovery of first somatically mutated tumor suppressor gene (p53)

These are all discrete discoveries worthy of a Nobel, though Vogelstein in particular is also deserving of it in terms of a "lifetime achievement award"

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4. Jon Snow on September 26, 2013 8:59 AM writes...

Done! Nicolaou, Danishefsky, Evans.

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5. Anonymous on September 26, 2013 9:01 AM writes...

Did Weinberg's lab do the work for the discovery of Rb? As I recall, he is a middle author and I heard his lab helped technically with cloning. Certainly his overall contribution is worthy.

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6. Anonymous on September 26, 2013 9:29 AM writes...

Interesting. I just looked it up and sure enough Weinberg was a middle author of the initial Nature paper of Rb discovery, with Dryja as last, senior author (and Friend as first author). Yet history has given Weinberg credit for the discovery. Not sure about why this is... I wonder how the Nobel committee will sort this out.

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7. Anon on September 26, 2013 9:31 AM writes...

Michael Anthony Epstein, definitely deserves a shot this year (identified first oncovirus) as does Knudson. It would be a shame for these guys to pass without recognition for their work. A shared Nobel would be nice as they helped unravel the earliest mechanisms of cancer.

Vogelstein is a distant second and Weinberg a very distant third in the cancer world, IMO.

The Hep C guys may also be in picking as in the last few years more and more people are becoming diagnosed with it.

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8. anchor on September 26, 2013 9:38 AM writes...

Derek: I was reading an article from the NBC news, where they are speculating that Prof. Barry Sharpless may be in for another Nobel for his click chemistry! The same article also mentions the possibility of Nobel for Prof. Higgs for his discovery of particle named after him and then some.

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9. Anonymous on September 26, 2013 9:49 AM writes...

Chemical Biology: Schreiber, Kiessling and Bertozzi?

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10. Anonymous on September 26, 2013 10:12 AM writes...

Click Chemistry: Sharpless, Bertozzi and Huisgen

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11. Anonymous on September 26, 2013 10:13 AM writes...

Click Chemistry: Sharpless, Bertozzi and Huisgen

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12. KC Nicolaou on September 26, 2013 10:28 AM writes...

Done! Nicolaou, Danishefsky, Evans.

You should have stopped after the first one. The Red Tide!

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13. Anonymous on September 26, 2013 10:34 AM writes...

I honestly cannot believe that click chemistry is even in the discussion. Aside from the fact that it's a ripped off idea from Huisgen in the first place, most people don't even abide by the original principles of click reactions. Let's not forget that click chemistry was supposed to encompass much much more than just the azide/alkyne cyclization. All I've ever seen is different academic labs finding ways to use the click cyclization so they can use the term in the title of their paper.

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14. Ygritte on September 26, 2013 10:43 AM writes...

@4: You know nothing Jon Snow...

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15. Andy on September 26, 2013 10:48 AM writes...

I don't want this to sound too critical, for it is excellent chemistry, but I would think there are better candidates than Click chemistry. Sharpless just defined something that has been an unstated aim of chemists for a long, long time and gave it a snazzy name and publicity. I don't actually like the click name, because I don't understand quite why it is called that (click your fingers and you have pure compound? - substrates that just click together? - something else?). Something where the word was actually meaningful (ideal chemistry? very dull) would be more descriptive.
The famous example, the Cu catalysed Huisgen cyclisation, is a very good reaction, and obviously the methodology has been used so many times - but is it worth a Nobel?
Or is the suggestion that the Nobel should be received for the click concept? I don't think a Nobel should be awarded for that.

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16. Anchor on September 26, 2013 10:52 AM writes...

While he is still alive, Prof. Rolf Huisgen deserves the Nobel! His pioneering discovery in 1, 3- dipole addition more or less revolutionized several ways by which plethora heterocycles can be prepared. The click chemistry adapted by Prof. Sharpless, was one of its many variations. Need some additional input from Germany/Austria to expand on my observations. Danke!

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17. Anonymous on September 26, 2013 10:53 AM writes...

Anonymous 13 - I disagree - This methodology has spanned synthetic/medicinal chemistry, chemical biology and materials science - can you think of any other methodology that has the same applicability? I agree it was Huisgen who developed the concept but Sharpless and Bertozzi have made it into what is is. Could the same be said about Olefin Metathesis Nobel Prize where Yves Chauvin done the early work but it was Grubbs and Schrock who pioneered this work

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18. ScientistSailor on September 26, 2013 10:55 AM writes...

@13 Well said.
I was at the ACS meeting in San Francisco when Sharpless got up to give a talk and started doodling with a green Sharpie on a blank overhead (yes, overhead projector). His point was that we needed new ways to *rapidly* assemble small fragments into more complex molecules. THAT is the idea behind click chemistry, not one cycloaddition...

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19. Curious Wavefunction on September 26, 2013 11:00 AM writes...

Thanks for the plug Derek. I too think that Huisgen should share a potential prize with Sharpless; he did pioneer the methodology after all. Plus at 93 he would be the oldest laureate in history, adding another nice touch to this year's prize.

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20. Anonymous on September 26, 2013 11:03 AM writes...

I agree Curious Wavefuction. Huisgen's papers in the 1960's where he developed the 3+2 cycloaddition work is research at its best.

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21. Kent G. Budge on September 26, 2013 11:08 AM writes...

My own field is physics, and I feel safe saying that if the award isn't for Higgs, it will only be because the Committee feels it is somehow too soon.

The only question is just who will be credited with Higgs. Certainly Higgs himself, but I imagine some kind of split with the leaders of the CERN team who discovered it.

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22. Anonymous on September 26, 2013 11:09 AM writes...

The Physics Prize should go to creation of the light sabre:

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23. Anonymous on September 26, 2013 11:33 AM writes...

@18 ScientistSailor: "I was at the ACS meeting in San Francisco ..." But Sharpless was hardly the first to espouse such ideas. Template directed synthesis (of ligands) had a long history before that; the need for "rapid assembly of small fragments" has a long history (combi chem and earlier); many other reactions had been tried with some success; KBS engineered the most useful solution, so far and so noted. I was in a company where people proposed similar ideas years before KBS but weren't allocated resources to test it. (And they might have failed ... recall, Sharpless AE had actually failed in previous attempts in his own lab over the course of several years; perseverance and sufficient resources eventually led to the Katsuki-Sharpless success.)

Further notes: Higgs' was one of three groups who proposed the necessity of the particle that came to be known as the Higgs Boson nearly simultaneously in 1964. Who should get the Nobel prize? As noted here (or was it another blog), Waugh was somehow left off a list of solid state NMR pioneers. Single molecule spectroscopy MIGHT be traceable to the guy at Roland Institute but there have been MANY advances in the field.

Maybe they should correct an oversight and give Doug Prasher a solo Nobel for GFP and for being so generous in sharing the clone in the first place and not being jealous or angry when he was left off the Nobel the first time around.

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24. Anonymous on September 26, 2013 11:55 AM writes...

I agree that it is likely to go to a more chemical related field this year, as GPCRs won last year so another biochemical prize might be a stretch.

However, I think that chaperone proteins are long overdue and are an obvious choice. If not this year, then very soon. They have dramatically altered how we think of cellular biology and signaling. Maybe not in chemistry, but medicine? I think that it would be split three ways between Horwich, Hartl and Buchner.

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25. franko on September 26, 2013 1:44 PM writes...

James Wang and Martin Gellert for topoisomerases?

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26. MoBio on September 26, 2013 3:04 PM writes...

Optogenetics--if not this year than very soon.

The only surprise will be who in addition to Karl Deisseroth (lab site:
receives it.

My guess would be one or two of the following Bamberg, Hegemann or Nagel.

Others who might also be listed: Boyden

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27. Nick on September 26, 2013 4:06 PM writes...

A click prize to Sharpless/Fokin without recognising Meldal who independently discovered the Cu(I) click would be incredibly harsh, in my opinion.

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28. Matt on September 26, 2013 5:38 PM writes...

I will once again be hoping that Djerassi gets the med prize. Wont happen, but the fellow doesnt have many years left, so I keep crossing my fingers.

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29. Sisyphus on September 26, 2013 5:39 PM writes...

Persistent Carbenes (N-heterocyclic carbenes):
Anthony Arduengo, Guy Bertrand and Ronald Breslow
(unfortunately H.-W. Wanzlick died in 1988)

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30. DA Evans on September 26, 2013 6:58 PM writes...

KC Nicolaou would be my choice;

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31. Hodor on September 26, 2013 7:26 PM writes...


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32. Jose on September 26, 2013 9:35 PM writes...

Just one clarification- RB Woodward quite likely should have won for ferrocene, but we won't know why until the Nobel committee unseals the records sometime. (2050?).

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33. Justin Peucon on September 26, 2013 11:10 PM writes...

Ah! Time to vote.
For the physics prize my vote is for GOD, and his now infamous particle.
For the Peace prize: anyone will do less GOD.
For the chemistry prize: ask to GOD.

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34. Anonymous on September 27, 2013 12:34 AM writes...

Regarding Robert Weinberg. The followings are his words quoted from "Natural Obsessions" by Natalie Angier:
"In some ways I feel that the retinoblastoma gene has been something of an unearned run for us. All the other advances that have been made in my lab, regardless of their relative merit, we got by the sweat of our brow. We really worked for them. Steve Friend (Weinberg's postdoc at the time) did a very nice job cloning the gene, but it wasn't the equivalent of, say, transfection or finding the point mutation in the ras gene. Dryja did the work - and may I add that he was lucky on his end. He was lucky to have pulled out a good probe. But we were luckier still in collaborating with him. We hadn't been working on retinoblastoma for six years. We jumped aboard at the last minute."

Regarding optogenetics. Derek recently highlighted the CRISPR revolution. It is remarkable that Feng Zhang was involved in both optogenetics (as a student of Deisseroth) and CRISPR (as a new PI). I'm not saying that he will win a Nobel prize. He probably won't for optogenetics and it's too early to say if there will be a prize for CRISPR or who will get credit for it. But these are impressive accomplishments.

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35. anon on September 27, 2013 8:24 AM writes...

Greg Winter and Rich Lerner for humanized therapeutic antibodies

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36. MoBio on September 27, 2013 9:07 AM writes...

#34: Agreed...Feng certainly did a lot on the opto front...that would make at least 6 with credit for the technology.

So many involved before Feng in CRISPR/CAS but his most recent stuff is awesome.

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37. Tyrion Lannister on September 27, 2013 10:03 AM writes...

@4 Jon Snow, Lannisters always pay their debts. They will receive their nobel prize as promised.

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38. lunar landing on September 27, 2013 11:25 AM writes...

I believe that the Nobel Prizes should be a reflection of the public's understanding of that discipline. They gave the Noble peace prize to Arafat and then to Obama. With this in mind this year's chemistry Nobel should be shared......

Walter white and Jessy Pinkman for their contributions to the publics perception and understanding of chemistry.

Hell they treat their competitors better than most advisors treat their students.

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39. Harry on September 27, 2013 11:45 AM writes...

Ronald Breaker, Chemistry or Medicine for discovery of riboswitches.
Bill Gates, Peace Prize for malaria and vaccine funding.

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40. mord on September 27, 2013 12:34 PM writes...

think klick is unlikely as the swedes may not want a further nobel going to the carlsberg lab

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41. Hurin on September 27, 2013 1:12 PM writes...

Graetzel, Lewis and Nocera for advances in solar energy conversion and storage. (Maybe not this year though, and maybe minus Graetzel. The DSSC is a neat trick, but its not clear to me whether it will be useful in any way).

Matyjaszewski for atom transfer radical polymerization.

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42. Joe Q. on September 27, 2013 1:48 PM writes...

The dipolar cycloaddition of azides to alkynes is nice chemistry, but doesn't seem to me to really be a "game-changer", at least not in the way that things like GFP or Pd-catalyzed couplings have been. If anything, I would pick ATRP (or novel polymerizations in general) before the "click reaction".

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43. Anonymous on September 28, 2013 10:11 AM writes...

I thought Sharpless already retired. If not, what he is doing? Click chemistry is really nothing to me, honestly.

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44. wlm on September 28, 2013 6:32 PM writes...

For physiology and medicine, either Endo for statins, or Le Douarin for neural crest cells. Djerassi would be a fine pick for p&m or chemistry.

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45. Anonymous on September 28, 2013 9:35 PM writes...

#13: no, it is not a ripped off Huisgen's idea. The copper-catalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition made enoromous impact on how we practice chemical biology, look into stuff in the living (and live) systems, make materials etc. True, the click concept is not really worth much on its own, and Sharpless did not go much beyond including the 1,3-dipolar cycloaddition in the list of click reactions. The copper-catalyzed reaction, at least in the form it is known now and is used 99% of the time, was Fokin's discovery. Had it not been for it, click chemistry would not have gone far. Sharpless was a great promoter of it, but neither discovered nor developed it. So, why all the hype about "click chemistry"? A fancy name, a masterful PR, but do not forget who discovered and drove the development of the copper-catalyzed reaction. Sharpless it wasn't (and, to be fair, he didn't he claim to be the one ... even if he did not mind to share the credit). There is no click chemistry without it as far as I am concerned (yes, I know the story first hand).

#43: Yeah, in my opinion, Sharpless has effectively retired. Has not published anything for many years. Heard some of his recent lectures. Amusing at most.

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46. KSH on September 29, 2013 4:43 AM writes...

I personally think that Carl Djerassi is long overdue a Nobel Prize. I really doubt it will happen though.
The whole click discussion is interesting. From what I understand, Meldal was the first to report it, however, they could only get it to work on solid-phase - in solution they observed a Glazer coupling. It was Sharpless (or Fokin?) that developed the actual useful reaction subsequently (not disregarding Huisgens work). Some people comment that Sharpless more did the PR than the chemistry, however, he strikes me as a very visionary guy, who saw the potential impact in several fields of developing a very reliable reaction.
I guess the fact that Sharpless was so succesful in promoting the "click" term is a testament to our scientific society, being a big name and all (especially after his 2001 award).

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47. Anonymous on September 29, 2013 10:37 AM writes...

46 KSH As someone who's has worked on 3+2 cycloaddition reactions in both the post and pre click eras I agree with you. I have to say Sharpless and co-workers have very much highlighted this area of research. Sharpless had the vision to see the applications. I don't think it was rip off from Huisgen work as sometimes I have heard at various conferences but he has seen the applications beyond the synthesis of heterocycles. So I think Shaprless, Bertozzi and Huisgen would be in the running.

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48. Anonymous on September 29, 2013 1:01 PM writes...

47 Anonymous - I cannot quite agree with your reasoning. Sharpless might have had the vision, but he did not discover any click reactions that are now used. The 2001 paper listed reactions that were already known at the time, as seen through the prism of click chemistry. He did not discover and develop CuAAC (46 KSH - Fokin did and has been the key player in envisioning and executing its applications. Sharpless credited him for that many times too). Although Sharpless saw potential applications of CuAAC and has been its avid promoter, he was a freshly minted Nobel laureate whose voice was naturally given more attention than anyone else's would be. Discovery and development of a useful reaction, whether it is called click or CuAAC or anything else, not merely its promotion, should be recognized. Also, I may not be correct about the history, but I don't think Huisgen discovered azide-alkyne cycloadditions. He studied them among other 3+2 reactions, but they had been known well before his work. The catalytic variants, on the other hand, were not.

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49. Anonymous on September 29, 2013 1:02 PM writes...

47 Anonymous - I cannot quite agree with your reasoning. Sharpless might have had the vision, but he did not discover any click reactions that are now used. The 2001 paper listed reactions that were already known at the time, as seen through the prism of click chemistry. He did not discover and develop CuAAC (46 KSH - Fokin did and has been the key player in envisioning and executing its applications. Sharpless credited him for that many times too). Although Sharpless saw potential applications of CuAAC and has been its avid promoter, he was a freshly minted Nobel laureate whose voice was naturally given more attention than anyone else's would be. Discovery and development of a useful reaction, whether it is called click or CuAAC or anything else, not merely its promotion, should be recognized. Also, I may not be correct about the history, but I don't think Huisgen discovered azide-alkyne cycloadditions. He studied them among other 3+2 reactions, but they had been known well before his work. The catalytic variants, on the other hand, were not.

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50. KSH on September 29, 2013 1:34 PM writes...

@47 Anonymous: I have never worked with 3+2 cycloadditions, so thanks for the insight. I agree that Bertozzi should be one of the primary candidates as well for her development of bioorthogonal reactions.
@48 Anonymous: It is an interesting issue. Forgive for my ignorance, but even though Fokin might have been the key player in developing the reaction, was the research not carried out in Sharpless' lab at the time? Was Fokin a post.doc