Next week Göran Hansson, Permanent Secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, will sit in the academy’s session hall, festooned with lavish paintings of former members such as Carl Linnaeus and Anders Celsius, to announce the 2015 chemistry Nobel prize.

No one knows what the Nobel committee have been discussing in the lead up to this year’s announcement, but we can offer you a peek behind the curtain to see how they think in our exclusive interview series with Bengt Norden, a former chair of the Nobel chemistry committee.

Speculation on the Nobel prize is hotting up…
© CLAUDIO BRESCIANI/epa/Corbis

In the meantime, the predictions for this year’s prize have already begun in earnest. Thomson Reuters have again cast their analytical eye over research citations in the past year to produce their three best educated guesses. (more…)

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As beacons of success in the scientific community, it seems strange that a few Nobel laureates in attendance at Lindau have highlighted the important role failure and frustration play in any scientific endeavour.

Panellists discuss the state of research in Africa and the importance of role models for the younger generation    Credit: Adrian Schröder/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Upon taking to the stage this morning, Steven Chu, 1997 Nobel laureate in physics, described his early career in science as ‘a series of failures’. He discussed how, during his days as a postdoc student, he would become fascinated by a problem, only to quickly move on when spurned in his attempts to answer it.

During his talk on fluorescence microscopy, Eric Betzig, a 2014 laureate in chemistry, openly admitted that he became deeply frustrated with the path his discipline was taking and decided to leave science all together before later arriving back on the scene with a new outlook on scientific inquiry.

In a similar vein, the famed crystallographer, Dan Shechtman, likened his quest to challenge the status quo to that of a cat walking through a gauntlet of German Shepherds.

And yet, they are all here to tread the boards of the Lindau stage. Many have cited perseverance and tenacity as crucial tools in obtaining success in science, but all here at Lindau have stressed that the fortuity of having a brilliant mentor and role model is what set them on the right path. (more…)

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On the idyllic island of Lindau, Germany, you can’t help but be inspired by the beautiful vistas that envelope this small getaway on the edge of Lake Constance, with the town itself embodying the very spirit of the scientific meeting that is currently taking place here.

Nobel laureates (l-r) Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell, William Moerner, Martin Chalfie and Steven Chu discuss the nature of interdisciplinarity at the 65th Lindau Nobel meeting. Credit: Christian Flemming/Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

At the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting, 65 Nobel laureates from an array of scientific disciplines are hoping to inspire over 650 young scientists from across the world. These early career researchers have been selected from a vast amount of applicants to engage in scientific debate, foster new working relationships and gain inspiration from those who have dared to challenge scientific paradigms.

Delegates were treated to a series of fascinating talks on Monday morning from some of the most recent recipients of the famed Nobel medal. Stefan Hell and Eric Betzig, two recipients of the 2014 Nobel prize in chemistry for their work on super-resolution microscopy, kicked things off in earnest with frank discussions on how they arrived at this point. Hell’s talk in particular resulted in a poignant moment where he confessed that ‘it’s not the 2015 me who started this, but the 1990 me – he deserves the credit’. (more…)

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With just under week until the announcements start, Nobel prize fever is officially here.

The official shortlist is shrouded in secrecy, giving those making their predictions about who might win little to go on – but that hasn’t stopped them.

Nobel medal

As usual, Thomson Reuters have released their Nobel forecast, which uses citation numbers and other statistical wizardry to predict the winners in each category. This approach has successfully predicted 35 Nobel prize winners over the past 12 years.

This time round they highlight three possible chemistry winners – the inventors of the organic light emitting diode (Ching Tang and Steven Van Slyke), RAFT polymerization (Graeme Moad, Ezio Rizzardo, San Thang) and mesoporous materials (Charles Kresge, Ryong Ryoo, Galen Stucky).

Elsewhere, less official speculations – perhaps based more on a hunch – have begun flying around.  On the Everyday Scientist blog, chemist Sam Lord has put together some suggestions. Like the number crunchers at Reuters, Lord has some past successes (though he didn’t predict last year’s computational chemistry winners – Karplus, Levitt and Warshel). He thinks the 2014 prize could go to a key historical invention, such as the contraceptive pill, or the lithium-ion battery (also a top pick for The Curious Wavefunction blogger Ashutosh Jogalekar), but also mentions broader areas such as microfluidics, nanotechnology and next-generation sequencing. If last year is anything to go by, there’s much to be said for gut feeling as well as advanced number crunching. As always, we’ll just have to wait a little longer for that all-important announcement from Sweden.

If you want to get into the Nobel spirit and hear more about the possible winners this year, our features editor Neil Withers joined representatives from Nature Chemistry and C&EN to begin the countdown to the 2014 chemistry Nobel in a Google hangout – watch the whole discussion here.

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Guest post by JessTheChemist

‘Scientists have a responsibility, or at least I feel I have a responsibility, to ensure that what I do is for the benefit of the human race’ – Harry Kroto

Thank you for your nominations for this month’s blog post. It was great to see so many of you getting involved in this series, highlighting interesting Nobel laureates for me to cover. However, I could only pick one winner, so I decided to write about Harry Kroto, inspired by this tweet from Bolton School:

 

Harry Kroto has a formidable CV. Not only is he a highly distinguished and talented chemist, but he does a great deal to improve the teaching of chemistry to future generations. This has included setting up the not-for-profit Vega Science Trust, which helps scientists communicate with the public at large, and even returning to his childhood school to build Buckyballs with students. (more…)

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Guest post by JessTheChemist

‘The noblest exercise of the mind within doors, and most befitting a person of quality, is study’ – Ramsay

A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Jack Dunitz at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. Little did I know that he was the academic great-great-grandson of the UK’s first chemistry Nobel Laureate, Sir William Ramsay. After discovering this connection, I decided to delve deeper to see which other chemistry legends Ramsay is connected to.

Ramsay began his career as an organic chemist, but his prominent discoveries were in the field of inorganic chemistry. At the meeting of the British Association in August 1894, Ramsay and Lord Rayleigh both announced the discovery of argon, after independent research. Ramsay then discovered helium in 1895 and systematically researched the missing links in this new group of elements to find neon, krypton, and xenon1. These findings led to Ramsay winning his Nobel prize in 1904 in ‘recognition of his services in the discovery of the inert gaseous elements in air, and his determination of their place in the periodic system’. (more…)

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Guest post by Rowena Fletcher-Wood

Among the many accidental discoveries through the ages is an experiment designed to probe carbon molecules in space, which unearthed a new terrestrial molecule.

Harry Kroto with buckyballs
© Science Photo Library

It all happened in an 11-day whirl, between 1 September 1985, when Harry Kroto first arrived at Rice University, US, and 12 September, when he, along with Richard Smalley and Robert Curl, submitted a paper to Nature: C60 Buckminsterfullerene’. Eleven years later, in 1996, the three were awarded the Nobel prize for chemistry.

(more…)

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It’s that time of year again – next week, the winners of this year’s round of Nobel prizes are due to be announced. We’re certainly getting pretty excited at Chemistry World HQ and, as usual, the predictions have been flying around.

For physics, the big question isn’t so much ‘what?’ as ‘who?’ will take home the prize this year. Most people seem to agree that the discovery of the Higgs boson is the strongest contender. But as there are a handful of theorists and experimental teams who were involved in its discovery – and a maximum of three can share the prize – who will be deemed worthy of the physics Nobel is anyone’s guess.

But what about the chemistry prize? As usual, Thomson Reuters have generated their list of predictions using most cited topics and authors. They do this every year and claim to have correctly predicted more Nobel prize winners than anyone else, having accurately forecast 27 winners over the last 11 years. I’m not so sure they’ll be right about the chemistry prize this time around though, as some of the innovations they’ve picked seem a little too recent. Alongside modular click chemistry and the Ames test for mutagenicity, they highlight DNA nanotechnology as a potential winner, and named none other than this year’s CW entrepreneur of the year Chad Mirkin as one of the leaders in this field. While the range of potential applications of DNA nanotech is huge, I think it’s still a little too early for this to be Nobel-worthy…but you never know! (more…)

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Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m not a chemist. I always enjoyed chemistry at school – I’d even go as far as to say I was good at it – but in the end the lure of the living was just too strong and I opted to do a biology degree.

It turns out that not being a chemist is something I have in common with several of the Nobel Laureates here in Lindau. Some were awarded the Nobel prize in physiology and medicine, or in physics. Others’ pioneering chemistry work was an offshoot from a career in another scientific field. 2012 chemistry Nobel Brian Kobilka, who opened the first day of scientific lectures with a summary of his work on G-protein coupled receptors, explained he was a ‘new kid on the chemistry block’.

‘I’m a physicist, but hey no one’s perfect!’ quipped David Wineland at the beginning of his talk on quantum theory (to a murmur of agreement from the crowd). The next day Erwin Neher told us he ‘trained as a physicist, won a Nobel in physiology & medicine and I’m now speaking at a chemistry meeting.’

Three days in, I’ve heard from more than 20 Nobel laureates from across the whole spectrum of science, and there are many more still to come. (I won’t go into much detail here – keep an eye on the website for videos). I’m beginning to realise the extent to which the sciences are intermingled. As Jean-Marie Lehn neatly summed up in his talk: ‘Physics concerns the laws of the universe, and biology the rules of life. Chemistry builds a bridge between the two.’ (more…)

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Picture hundreds of chemists taking over a tiny island. It may sound bizarre, but that’s pretty much what’s happening in Lindau, Germany right now.

I’m lucky enough to be at the 63rd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, an annual event that sees Nobel laureates summoned to the beautiful Bavarian island of Lindau, along with 600 of the world’s most promising and passionate young researchers, all hoping to meet their heroes. This year, it’s chemistry’s turn. Brian Kobilka, Harry Kroto, Akira Suzuki and Ada Yonath are just some of the 35 science legends who will be taking to the stage this week.

It’s a conference like no other, with one specific goal: To build bridges. Bridges across generations, across cultures and across disciplines. As all the speakers have achieved remarkable things in different areas, the talks and discussions will cover a mish-mash of topics, from drug discovery to quantum theory. Many will focus on grand challenges such as sustainability or energy production, and broader topics such as science communication are also on the agenda.

(more…)

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