Who is the greatest living chemist? A league table, based on what some argue is the fairest measure of research achievement ever devised, may now provide the answer.

Top of the pile is organic chemist E J Corey of Harvard University, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1990 for his ‘masterly development of organic synthesis’ – the ability to stitch together complex carbon-based molecules.

Harvard scientists also occupy slots two and three, in the form of George Whitesides – a pioneer of materials chemistry and nanotechnology – and Martin Karplus, a theoretical chemist. The leading British chemist indexed so far is placed at number 13 – Alan Fersht of Cambridge University, who studies protein chemistry. The full table is published on Chemistry World’s website.

The chemists were ranked by h-index, a number invented by physicist Jorge Hirsch in 2005 to measure research impact. A scientist’s h-index is the highest number of papers they have published which have each amassed at least that number of citations from other authors: Corey, with an h of 132, has published 132 papers which have each received at least 132 citations, for example.

Henry Schaefer, a chemist at the University of Georgia, US, created the rankings with colleague Amy Peterson, and describes it as a work in progress. Though the top 10 won’t surprise anyone, said Schaefer, some Nobel Prize winners are buried deep down in the table. Nobel-winning organometallic chemist E O Fischer, for example, squeezes in at joint 251st with an h of 60. That may be because the Nobel Prize is awarded for one achievement, while the h-index marks a whole career, suggests Schaefer.

Read the full list here.


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