"The organic chemists seem to get their hides chapped most easily when a Nobel gets awarded to a 'biologist'. It's worth asking 'what are the fundamental unanswered questions in organic chemistry?'" (Emphasis mine)Here are three areas, broadly defined, that I believe could win the Chemistry prize next year.
University College London, 2011
2. Biochemical Assembly Lines. Yes, cue the "it's not chemistry!" complaints, but I really like work which elucidates the cellular mechanisms plants, animals, and microbes use to assemble huge, medicinally-relevant natural products. Researchers can prompt E. coli to make an antifungal compound, for instance, or yeast to make a cancer therapy. Directed evolution of these assembly proteins, or the DNA which encodes them, can lead to products with wild substitutions and unexpected properties. Bonus: All the 'big wheels' tend to be card-carrying chemists, and work in chemistry departments. The overarching goal tends to be chemical - utilization of Nature's machinery to produce new compounds.
Usual suspects: Christopher Walsh, Chaitan Khosla, David Liu, Ben Shen.
|Walsh Group, JACS 2012|
3. Fundamental Catalysis. Technically, there have been a few Nobels for this fairly recently (2001, 2005, 2011). But, what a decade! Here's some currently-exploding fields:
Chiral Anion Catalysis
New carbene ligands
Frustrated Lewis pairs
Catalytic C-H activation
Any discipline on this short list could take home a Nobel within 10 years. Admittedly, some of these are rather young, but, as Ash has pointed out, the committee has rewarded ever-shorter publication-to-prize gaps, so it's not without precedent.
Usual Suspects: Dean Toste, Melanie Sanford, Anthony Arduengo, Graham Hutchings, Douglas Stephan, David MacMillan, Benjamin List
Readers, who would you award a Chemistry Nobel?