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What About Inorganic Chemistry?

January 4, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 1

As a faithful reader of C&EN and an inorganic chemist who is now retired, I take exception to your recent infographic that classifies Nobel Laureates (C&EN, Oct. 12, 2015, page 3, cen.acs.org/nobels.html) because it suggests that inorganic chemistry has not been a major factor in the history of the Nobel Prizes in Chemistry.

Your classification identifies a number of winners with organic chemistry (for example, in 2005, Yves Chauvin, Robert H. Grubbs, and Richard R. Schrock; in 2001, William S. Knowles, Ryoji Noyori, and K. Barry Sharpless; and in 1912, Victor Grignard and Paul Sabatier) whereas their achievements were clearly based on the chemistry (that is, the organometallic chemistry) of metallic elements, something within the domain of inorganic chemistry. Whether it is solid-state materials, nanotechnology, or catalysis, the other (noncarbon) elements deserve their due.

Editor’s note: To produce the infographic in question, C&EN used the chemistry subfield classifications supplied by Nobelprize.org. For instance, according to Robert H. Grubbs’s fact sheet (http://cenm.ag/nobelgrubbs), the work he did to earn the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry—development of metathesis reactions—was labeled as organic chemistry.

Sometimes, Nobelprize.org classified a prize under more than one subfield. After polling our writers and editors, we selected the subfield that everyone agreed was more prominently represented by the Nobel Laureate’s work. We made this selection for graphic readability.

In only a handful of cases, we had to classify the field ourselves. For instance, according to Artturi Virtanen’s fact sheet (http://cenm.ag/nobelvirtanen), the work he did to earn the 1945 Nobel Prize in Chemistry—development of a chemical method to prevent the harmful fermentation of stored grain—was labeled as agricultural chemistry. We plotted only seven subfields on our graphic (again, for readability) and agricultural chemistry was not one of them, so we relabeled Virtanen’s prize as being for biochemistry.

Philip Rakita
Hendersonville, N.C.

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