Thursday, October 11, 2012

Yes, This Year's Nobel Prize Chemistry Prize was given for Chemistry

The 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was announced yesterday and the reaction from many chemists in the various social media outlets was of outrage that the prize was again awarded for work in biochemistry and not "true" chemistry.

I am not sympathetic to the arguments in the least.
  1. I've yet to see anyone in social media complaining who actually stood a chance to win the prize. The uproar is all caused by bystanders who are never ever going to be considered for the prize. As such, this no different than sports fan complaining about a call in the big match that went against their team. And the end result is the same in both cases. The sun will rise tomorrow and life goes on and years from now no one except the complainers themselves will remember their complaints and their bitterness.
  2. Look at what is being published in leading journals that qualifies as "chemistry". Here's what the most recent issue of Nature Chemistry has for research articles:
    • Use of the interior cavity of the P22 capsid for site-specific initiation of atom-transfer radical polymerization with high-density cargo loading
    • Selective transformations of complex molecules are enabled by aptameric protective groups
    • Electrode-assisted catalytic water oxidation by a flavin derivative
    • Rapid point-of-care detection of the tuberculosis pathogen using a BlaC-specific fluorogenic probe
    • Ab initio carbon capture in open-site metal–organic frameworks
    • Thiourea-catalysed ring opening of episulfonium ions with indole derivatives by means of stabilizing non-covalent interactions
    • Visualization of hierarchically structured zeolite bodies from macro to nano length scales
    • Submicrometre geometrically encoded fluorescent barcodes self-assembled from DNA
    • The energy barrier in singlet fission can be overcome through coherent coupling and entropic gain
    • Label-free measuring and mapping of binding kinetics of membrane proteins in single living cells
    • Engaging unactivated alkyl, alkenyl and aryl iodides in visible-light-mediated free radical reactions
    That's pretty heavy on the bio side of things, isn't it? Well, how about another major chemistry journal such as The Journal of the American Chemical Society?(I bolded the articles that are clearly bio-oriented, and I arguably could have bolded even more)
    • Direct Stereospecific Amination of Alkyl and Aryl Pinacol Boronates
    • Photoinduced Dynamics of Oxyluciferin Analogues: Unusual Enol “Super”photoacidity and Evidence for Keto–Enol Isomerization
    • Tuning the Thermoelectric Properties of Conducting Polymers in an Electrochemical Transistor
    • Femtosecond Conical Intersection Dynamics of Tryptophan in Proteins and Validation of Slowdown of Hydration Layer Dynamics
    • Porphyrin Shell Microbubbles with Intrinsic Ultrasound and Photoacoustic Properties
    • Ruthenium-Catalyzed Aldehyde Functionality Reshuffle: Selective Synthesis of E-2-Arylcinnamaldehydes from E-β-Bromostyrenes and Aryl Aldehydes
    • Photodriven Charge Separation Dynamics in CdSe/ZnS Core/Shell Quantum Dot/Cobaloxime Hybrid for Efficient Hydrogen Production
    • Pt5Gd as a Highly Active and Stable Catalyst for Oxygen Electroreduction<
    • Light-Inducible Spatiotemporal Control of Gene Activation by Customizable Zinc Finger Transcription Factors
    • Coherent Picosecond Exciton Dynamics in a Photosynthetic Reaction Center
    • Antibody-Linked Spherical Nucleic Acids for Cellular Targeting
    • Efficient Medium Ring Size Bromolactonization Using a Sulfur-Based Zwitterionic Organocatalyst
    • Catalyst-Controlled Regioselectivity in the Synthesis of Branched Conjugated Dienes via Aerobic Oxidative Heck Reactions
    • Direct-Write Patterning of Bacterial Cells by Dip-Pen Nanolithography
    • Bulk Superconductivity in Bismuth Oxysulfide Bi4O4S3
    • Tryptophan Switch for a Photoactivated Platinum Anticancer Complex
    • Predictions for Cholesterol Interaction Sites on the A2A Adenosine Receptor
    • Transition-Metal-Free Oxyarylation of Alkenes with Aryl Diazonium Salts and TEMPONa
    • Ba1–xNaxTi2Sb2O (0.0 ≤ x ≤ 0.33): A Layered Titanium-Based Pnictide Oxide Superconductor
    • Facile “Modular Assembly” for Fast Construction of a Highly Oriented Crystalline MOF Nanofilm
    • Nanofluidic Ion Transport through Reconstructed Layered Materials
    • Diketopyrrolopyrrole–Diketopyrrolopyrrole-Based Conjugated Copolymer for High-Mobility Organic Field-Effect Transistors
    • Glycine Rescue of β-Sheets from cis-Proline
    • Synthesis of Thieno-Bridged Porphyrins: Changing the Antiaromatic Contribution by the Direction of the Thiophene Ring
    • Chain-Walking Strategy for Organic Synthesis: Catalytic Cycloisomerization of 1,n-Dienes
    • Low-Voltage Organic Field Effect Transistors with a 2-Tridecyl[1]benzothieno[3,2-b][1]benzothiophene Semiconductor Layer
    • Cyclization Cascades Initiated by 1,6-Conjugate Addition
    • Neuron-Targeted Copolymers with Sheddable Shielding Blocks Synthesized Using a Reducible, RAFT-ATRP Double-Head Agent
    • Near Infrared Light Triggered Release of Biomacromolecules from Hydrogels Loaded with Upconversion Nanoparticles
    • Modulation of a Pre-existing Conformational Equilibrium Tunes Adenylate Kinase Activity
    • Catalysis through Temporary Intramolecularity: Mechanistic Investigations on Aldehyde-Catalyzed Cope-type Hydroamination Lead to the Discovery of a More Efficient Tethering Catalyst
    • Multiprotein Heme Shuttle Pathway in Staphylococcus aureus: Iron-Regulated Surface Determinant Cog-Wheel Kinetics
    • Kinetic Stability of the Streptavidin–Biotin Interaction Enhanced in the Gas Phase
    • Solar Cell Efficiency, Self-Assembly, and Dipole–Dipole Interactions of Isomorphic Narrow-Band-Gap Molecules
    • Identification of an Aggregation-Prone Structure of Tau
    • Macromolecular Crowding and Protein Stability
    • Detection of the Water-Binding Sites of the Oxygen-Evolving Complex of Photosystem II Using W-Band 17O Electron–Electron Double Resonance-Detected NMR Spectroscopy
    • Multiple-Site Concerted Proton–Electron Transfer Reactions of Hydrogen-Bonded Phenols Are Nonadiabatic and Well Described by Semiclassical Marcus Theory
    • A New Direction in Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells Redox Mediator Development: In Situ Fine-Tuning of the Cobalt(II)/(III) Redox Potential through Lewis Base Interactions
    • Fe/N/C Composite in Li–O2 Battery: Studies of Catalytic Structure and Activity toward Oxygen Evolution Reaction
    • From Aggregation-Induced Emission of Au(I)–Thiolate Complexes to Ultrabright Au(0)@Au(I)–Thiolate Core–Shell Nanoclusters
    • Ruthenium Stilbenyl and Diruthenium Distyrylethene Complexes: Aspects of Electron Delocalization and Electrocatalyzed Isomerization of the Z-Isomer
    • Photoelectrochemical and Impedance Spectroscopic Investigation of Water Oxidation with “Co–Pi”-Coated Hematite Electrodes
    • Spectroscopic and DFT Studies of Second-Sphere Variants of the Type 1 Copper Site in Azurin: Covalent and Nonlocal Electrostatic Contributions to Reduction Potentials
    • General Acid–Base Catalysis Mediated by Nucleobases in the Hairpin Ribozyme
    • Nanoscale Graphene Oxide (nGO) as Artificial Receptors: Implications for Biomolecular Interactions and Sensing
    • Mechanistic Studies on Histone Catalyzed Cleavage of Apyrimidinic/Apurinic Sites in Experimental Verification of the Homoaromaticity of 1,3,5-Cycloheptatriene and Evaluation of the Aromaticity of Tropone and the Tropylium Cation by Use of the Dimethyldihydropyrene Probe
    • Exploiting the π-Acceptor Properties of Carbene-Stabilized Phosphorus Centered Trications [L3P] 3+: Applications in Pt(II) Catalysis
    • Self-Assembly and Photopolymerization of Sub-2 nm One-Dimensional Organic Nanostructures on Graphene
    • Total Syntheses of HMP-Y1, Hibarimicinone, and HMP-P1
    • Superoxide Reaction with Tyrosyl Radicals Generates para-Hydroperoxy and para-Hydroxy Derivatives of Tyrosine
    • Identification and Characterization of the Echinocandin B Biosynthetic Gene Cluster from Emericella rugulosa NRRL 11440
    • Lateral Distribution of Charged Species along a Polyelectrolyte Probed with a Fluorescence Blob Model
    • Crystal Structure of a Preacylation Complex of the β-Lactamase Inhibitor Sulbactam Bound to a Sulfenamide Bond-Containing Thiol-β-lactamase
    • Mechanism of Metal-Free Hydrogen Transfer between Amine–Boranes and Aminoboranes
    • Single-Molecule Electrochemical Gating in Ionic Liquids
    • Tailoring Bimetallic Alloy Surface Properties by Kinetic Control of Self-Diffusion Processes at the Nanoscale
    • Populated Intermediates in the Thermal Unfolding of the Human Telomeric Quadruplex
    • Dynamics of Catalytic Resolution of 2-Lithio-N-Boc-piperidine by Ligand Exchange
    • Stereospecific Cross-Coupling of Secondary Organotrifluoroborates: Potassium 1-(Benzyloxy)alkyltrifluoroborates
    • Mechanism of Amination of β-Keto Esters by Azadicarboxylates Catalyzed by an Axially Chiral Guanidine: Acyclic Keto Esters React through an E Enolate
    • Reactivity of U–E–U (E = S, Se) Toward CO2, CS2, and COS: New Mixed-Carbonate Complexes of the Types U–CO2E–U (E = S, Se), U–CS2E–U (E = O, Se), and U–COSSe–U
    • Theoretical Investigation into the Mechanism of Au(I)-Catalyzed Reaction of Alcohols with 1,5 Enynes
    • Site-Selective Chemistry and the Attachment of Peptides to the Surface of a Microelectrode Array
    • Dynamic Nuclear Polarization NMR Spectroscopy of Microcrystalline Solids
    • Are MXenes Promising Anode Materials for Li Ion Batteries? Computational Studies on Electronic Properties and Li Storage Capability of Ti3C2 and Ti3C2X2 (X = F, OH) Monolayer
    While not as bio-bent as Nature Chemistry, there still are a lot of those awful biochemical names that end in -ase and all those protein code names... It's just horrible to think that someone would let that soil the pages of a pure chemistry journal like JACS. I could go one with other journals, but you get the point. Chemistry journals long ago decided that chemistry could have a strong bio-base orientation and still qualify as chemistry.
  3. The underlying foundation for much of chemistry is changing from its traditional petroleum-basis to a biological basis. This is most apparent in the areas of polymers and fuels, but it will soon spread to the rest of organic chemistry and beyond. But more to the point, the reactions that are creating these materials ARE NOT in many cases, the classic reactions that we all learned as sophomores, but are different and will require that synthetic chemists of the future become familiar with these bio-based reaction options as well.
  4. What I find most laughable about this whole situation is that I'm the guy that is on the backside of my career and yet I'm the one that is both applauding this new breadth of "chemistry" and having to tell younger people to adjust to the new paradigm. Shouldn't I be the old curmudgeon who grinds my teeth and complains about those upstart bio people who are coming on my yard ("Get off my grass or I'll get my shotgun...")? I don't get it.
While I'm not going to predict specific individuals who are going to the Nobel Prize in the future, I will say that an ever increasing number of the awards are going to go to "bio" chemistry in all it's many forms. That's the way research and industry are heading. If you don't like it, that's too bad. You can do no more to change this than you can stop the tide from coming in.

Update: Stuart Cantrill, the Chief Editor of Nature Chemistry pointed out that the articles I originally had posted were incorrect. And that I still wasn't right when I corrected it.


Anonymous said...

Spot on!

stu said...

Well, you got it right the second time you corrected it... And just one comment on the bio stuff in NChem. Yes, we do publish a fair amount - we try and define chemistry as broadly as we can. You won't find many molecular biology papers in our journal though... and it's not because we're rejecting them all!

Anonymous said...

Howdy our family simply love your marvelous site and please stick to it

Anonymous said...

I envy your capability to publish wonderful article on simply wanted to say I like this !