Here Are The Innovations Likely To Win The Nobel Prize For Chemistry

Alfred Nobel Medal by Richard Renninger 1975
A 1975 medal honouring the Nobel Prize Richard Renniger/Wikimedia Commons

The winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry won’t be announced for a little while — Wednesday, October 8th, to be precise — but we may already have an idea of who might win, thanks to an annual analysis by Thomson Reuters.

The Intellectual Property & Science unit of Thomson Reuters, which also owns the Reuters news service, bases its forecasts on the number of citations of a scientist’s published work. These references serve as a proxy for how influential their work is. (This is also how the overall influence and importance of journals and scientists is assessed, a system that is not without its critics.)

The ratings have accurately predicted 35 Nobel laureates since 2002. These include 9 winners predicted in the year of the forecast, and 16 who won within 2 years. Here are this years predictions for the Nobel Prize for Chemistry:

Functional mesoporous materials

Mesoporous silica under scanning electron microscope
Mesoporous silica viewed under a scanning electron microscope. The size of the pores in this material could make it ideal as a drug delivery mechanism for cancer. Wikimedia Commons

Three of the predicted Laureates work in this area of nanotechnology (read: absurdly small technology, at the scale of atoms and molecules). “Mesoporous” refers to materials with a pore size (similar to the pores in your skin) anywhere between 2 and 50 nanometers — a nanometer being one-billionth of a meter. In particular, mesoporous silica holds promise as a drug delivery system for cancer treatments, among other applications.

The possible winners: Charles Kresge, Chief Technology Officer of Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia; Ryong Ryoo, Director of the Center for Nanomaterials and Chemical Reactions at the Institute for Basic Science in South Korea; and Galen Stucky, Professor in Letters and Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Reversible addition-fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) polymerization process

RAFT agents
Two examples of RAFT agents — chemicals used in the RAFT process that allow control over the precise molecular weight of polymers, artificial substances that are used in everything from pantyhose to artificial hearts. Wikimedia Commons

Three scientists from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) are predicted to win for their work on this process, which affords more precise control over the creation of polymers. or synthetic materials created from linking a large number of similar units. Think Teflon, used not only as a nonstick coating (and descriptor of former President Ronald Reagan), but also in replacement blood vessels. Applications for polymers are virtually limitless, so finding more precise ways of creating them is a big deal.

The possible winners: Graeme Moad, Ezio Rizzardo, and San H. Thang, all from CSIRO, where the RAFT polymerization process was first described in 1998 in a paper by Rizzardo.

Organic light-emitting diode

Led light emitting diodes
A visitor looks at white and blue light emitting diodes (LED) used as Christmas decoration at Tokyo Midtown in Tokyo, November 17, 2007. LEDs are also seen in virtually every electronic device we use today. REUTERS

Two scientists are in the running for inventing organic light-emitting diodes, commonly known as LEDs. These are seen — literally — in a range of electronic devices including smartphones, tablets, and TVs. If there were a separate prize for being readily understandable to laypeople, they would win that hands-down.

The possible winners: Ching W. Tang of the University of Rochester in New York and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Steven Van Slyke, Chief Technology Officer at Kateeva, Inc. in Menlo Park, California.