And the 2010 Nobel Prize for Chemistry Goes To…

…three chemists! *applause*

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced this year’s Nobel prize in chemistry and the winners were Richard Heck, Ei-ichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki for their work on palladium-catalyzed cross-coupling reactions.

As a lab chemist, this was immensely pleasing, a Nobel for chemistry I have actually used myself (all 3 reactions in fact!). Curiously, I don’t usually have much interest in the Nobels, they always seem to go to work that is only barely related to what I think of as my subject area. I didn’t think it was anything more than a passing interest except for those directly involved, but I saw blog posts talking about who might be the winner – one factor being that it is something that grad students get tested on, so they study it.

There was some great coverage by several of my regular reads (which i’ll add links to later). Some of the background was fascinating. Like that Richard Heck, who’s work was hugely important to the development of the whole field, is currently retired due to lack of funding and living in the Philippines. A contemporary of Heck’s who was also working on similar chemistry (without developing it as much as Heck) died of cancer. And the whole Nobel rule of “only 3 laureates per award” plus only living scientists can receive the award meant that Stille and Kumara are only posthumously remembered and possibly their deaths meant that the field was narrowed enough to highlight the three above, clearly all Nobel-worthy, but it has become a huge field with a wide variety of work. Since the committee specifically mentioned carbon-carbon bond formation, I daresay Hartwig and Buchwald can still hold out hope that their carbon-nitrogen bond formation contributions will still be recognized.

It is quite funny that this year, after thinking that chemistry was not getting its due, that we got this long awaited award for the palladium chemistry and that the physics award went for the discovery of graphene, the single atom thick layer of carbon. Which might have easily be recognized as a chemistry award too.

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