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Nobel Prize

Notable chemists who should have won the Nobel

Personality, politics, death, and bad luck explain why the prize eluded these chemistry pioneers

by Stu Borman
April 11, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 15

Looking back over the 115-year history of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, there are some notable oversights—chemists who made important breakthroughs but never won the prize. Rules and restrictions in Alfred Nobel’s will, which established the prize’s guidelines, along with personal conflicts, premature death, and simple bad luck have made awarding the Nobel an imperfect and controversial process over the years.

Last month, at a Division of the History of Chemistry session at the American Chemical Society national meeting in San Diego, speakers told 10 stories about chemists who should have won the prize but didn’t and why some researchers have turned out to be notable Nobel Prize losers. Here are five of those stories.

What Type Of Research Wins The Nobel Prize In Chemistry? C&EN examines what past history might reveal about the branch of chemistry most likely to win this year’s prize.

Dmitri Mendeleev

Credit: Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi
Dmitri Mendeleev
Credit: Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi
Dmitri Mendeleev

Any list of the most important figures in the history of chemistry includes Mendeleev, a Russian chemist who developed the periodic table of elements in the 19th century. But he never won a Nobel, despite being alive when the first few prizes were awarded.

The key problem, explained Carmen J. Giunta of LeMoyne College, was that Alfred Nobel’s 1895 will said the prizes were to recognize “those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.” So the early prizes, beginning with the first in 1901, went to work done roughly contemporaneously.

But in 1900, statutes that embodied an official interpretation of the will by the Nobel Foundation, which administers the prize, stated that the awards should primarily honor recent achievements but could also be granted for earlier work whose significance had recently become apparent.

Mendeleev supporters pointed to that latter interpretation after the inert gas elements were the subject of chemistry and physics Nobel Prizes in 1904. They thought those discoveries made Mendeleev’s 19th-century periodic table work Nobel-eligible. Mendeleev was therefore nominated for the 1905 prize but didn’t win.

He was nominated again for the 1906 prize, and the Nobel committee, which recommends winners, voted 4 to 1 in his favor. However, the Royal Swedish Academy, which makes the final prize decisions, did not accept the vote. Instead, it packed the committee with four more members and made the committee vote again. This subsequent vote was 5 to 4 in favor of Henri Moissan for isolating elemental fluorine and developing an electric furnace. The Royal Swedish Academy accepted that vote.

Scholars believe Svante Arrhenius, a prominent member of the Royal Swedish Academy, may have helped block Mendeleev’s selection because he was unhappy about the Russian’s long-standing and open criticism of Arrhenius’s ionic dissociation theory, the idea that electrolytes dissociate in water to form ions. Arrhenius may also have believed that Mendeleev’s achievement was just too old.

Mendeleev died in 1907 and therefore never got another chance because of another stipulation in Alfred Nobel’s will: Scientists must still be alive to win the prize.

Wallace Carothers

Credit: DuPont
Wallace Carothers stretches synthetic rubber in his lab at DuPont.
Credit: DuPont
Wallace Carothers stretches synthetic rubber in his lab at DuPont.

Around 1930, Carothers, who worked at DuPont, invented condensation polymerization—a reaction that combines monomers with reactive end groups, releasing water in the process. By 1935, he had used the reaction to create a new material, nylon, which later became a raging commercial success. In San Diego, E. Thomas Strom of the University of Texas, Arlington, argued condensation polymerization surely deserved a Nobel.

Carothers carried out his polymer chemistry studies in DuPont’s Central Research Department, an academia-like research program initiated in 1927 by DuPont chemist Charles Stine. Stine’s idea was to recruit top researchers in colloids, physical chemistry, organic chemistry, and polymers and let them publish their findings in the open literature so they could receive international recognition for their work, the way academic scientists do. DuPont would then commercially spin off discoveries it deemed valuable. The Central Research Department was drastically reduced in size in the run-up to the pending Dow-DuPont merger.

Nylon caused a craze when it was made into women’s stockings, and today it is widely used in fibers, molded parts, films, and other products. The discovery of nylon did not become well-known outside DuPont until about 1939. However, Strom said Carothers could have won a Nobel for condensation polymerization in 1936.

For Carothers to have been considered seriously, it would have been best if a prominent chemist had nominated him. Irving Langmuir, who had won the 1932 chemistry prize for surface chemistry and was an industrial chemist at General Electric, would have been perfect.

Strom speculated that if Langmuir had nominated polymer chemistry pioneers Hermann Staudinger and Carothers together, “they would have had a good chance.” He noted that Staudinger, who had invented a technique called addition polymerization, had been nominated for the Nobel Prize nine times from 1931 to 1935 but had not won. And Carothers’ reputation was riding high in 1936, when he became one of the first industrial organic chemists elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

“So 1936 would have been the year,” Strom said. Carothers was never nominated, and “by 1937, the opportunity had been lost.” Carothers suffered from depression and alcoholism. “He felt he was a failure,” Strom said. Carothers committed suicide by cyanide poisoning in April 1937, ending his chances at the prize.

Staudinger eventually did receive a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, in 1953. “If Carothers had hung on, he probably would have shared” that prize, Strom said, but it was not to be.

Michael Dewar

Credit: Courtesy of Jeffrey Seeman
Michael Dewar
Credit: Courtesy of Jeffrey Seeman
Michael Dewar

Dewar, who was a chemistry professor at the University of Texas, Austin, made major contributions to the development of semiempirical theory, in which chemists combine experimental data and theoretical calculations to estimate molecular properties and behavior that often aren’t easily accessible with theory alone. Developed between the 1950s and 1980s, Dewar’s semiempirical methods still garner 400 to 500 citations per year today and “were well worthy of a Nobel Prize,” said Eamonn F. Healy of St. Edward’s University.

Semiempirical theory makes compromises. It isn’t as rigorous as ab initio theory, Healy said. That makes semiempirical methods a lot more practical than ab initio theory because they require much less computer time to give useful results. But ab initio theory is a complete solution to modeling problems, and when you use it, “you know where you are going,” Healy said—even though it is likely to be a long trip.

Despite the great utility of semiempirical theory, Dewar failed to earn a Nobel, and many think it was because of his combative personality and “acerbic tongue,” Healy said.

In one notorious incident, “Michael stood up in a public forum where a prominent theoretician was speaking and called him ‘a disgrace to science,’ ” Healy said. “He argued with everybody, really.” But his long-standing conflicts with chemistry Nobel Prize winners William N. Lipscomb and Linus Pauling were key roadblocks on his path to the prize.

“Lipscomb made the very important criticism that the trouble with semi­empirical theory is that when it’s right, you’re not quite sure why it’s right, and when it’s wrong, you’re not quite sure why it’s wrong,” Healy said. “Michael would have answered that it didn’t matter—just take the result and work with it.” That response probably diminished the case for his work being Nobel caliber.

Pauling was a titan of theoretical chemistry, but Dewar disdained resonance theory, an electron delocalization concept Pauling had developed around 1930. Dewar felt it was misguided and had held back progress in the field of theoretical chemistry. In terms of winning a Nobel Prize, “that was a death knell right there, but Michael had many nails in his Nobel coffin at that stage,” Healy said.

Dewar never got the prize and died in 1997. “There’s a lesson here,” Healy said. “Even if you think you’re right, it’s not always best to tell people so, at least not the way Michael did.”

Louis Hammett

Credit: Pure Appl. Chem. 1995, DOI: 10.1351/pac199567050835
Louis Hammett
Credit: Pure Appl. Chem. 1995, DOI: 10.1351/pac199567050835
Louis Hammett

Hammett was a pioneer in physical organic chemistry and wrote a key textbook in the field. At the national meeting, Charles L. Perrin of the University of California, San Diego, argued that Hammett deserved a Nobel for his 1937 discovery of the Hammett equation.

The Hammett equation describes how substituents on a molecule affect the molecule’s reactivity. “The significance of the Hammett equation, and the reason I think it deserved a Nobel Prize, is that it established organic chemistry as a science with predictable regularities rather than only a collection of observations and preparations, and it allowed you to make mechanistic inferences about reactions,” Perrin said.

“It would have been quite reasonable for Hammett and Christopher K. Ingold to share the Nobel Prize because they set forth the idea of organic chemistry as a logical, systematic science,” Perrin said. Ingold, a noted British chemist, had developed physical organic chemistry concepts such as four types of reaction mechanisms—SN1, SN2, E1, and E2.

But Ingold had a powerful enemy in the chemistry community in Nobel-prize-winning organic chemist Robert Robinson, who had considerable influence with the Nobel committee, Perrin told C&EN. This, Perrin said, perhaps led to neither Hammett’s nor Ingold’s ever winning the prize.

“The ability of the Hammett equation to predict reactivity across a wide range of processes represented a major advance,” Perrin said. “It was deserving of the prize but overlooked.”

Howard Simmons

Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Howard Simmons
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Howard Simmons

Simmons spent his entire professional career, from 1954 to 1991, at DuPont and headed DuPont’s Central Research Department from 1974 to 1991. Much of that department’s innovative work in fundamental chemistry was done under Simmons’s stewardship, said Pierre Laszlo, emeritus professor of chemistry at the University of Liège, and École Polytechnique.

Laszlo thinks Simmons should have won a Nobel Prize for the codiscovery of cryptands, crown ethers that form complexes with other compounds selectively. Simmons discovered cryptands independently of French chemist Jean-Marie Lehn, who did win the 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the crown ethers.

Why wasn’t Simmons also awarded the prize? Possibly in part because Alfred Nobel’s will set a limit of three winners per year, and Lehn shared the 1987 prize with two other supramolecular chemists.

However, “Simmons’s main problem is that he spared too little time writing up his results,” Laszlo said. “He was beset with the huge burden of running the Central Research Department, trying to keep the scientists there happy and placate management at the same time. So many of his results are still unpublished.”

In addition, Simmons “was incredibly gentlemanly and generous,” Laszlo said. “He shared all his results on cryptands with Jean-Marie.” When Lehn won the Nobel Prize, he called Simmons twice from France to make sure Simmons wasn’t upset, Laszlo said. He wasn’t.

Simmons made scintillating discoveries and had a penetrating intellect and the character of a can-do achiever, Laszlo said. He made a great impact on chemistry, “despite the burden his administrative duties and leadership placed on his time and energy,” Laszlo added. “I respectfully submit his name for a posthumous Nobel Prize.”  

Other Notable Nobel Snubs

Several other chemists who #shouldawonaNobel were discussed in San Diego at a session titled “The Posthumous Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Correcting the Errors & Oversights of the Nobel Prize Committee.” We present them in this list, along with other favorites nominated online by readers.

BET theory (three scientists)

Credit: Chemical Heritage Foundation Collections
Herman Mark
Credit: Chemical Heritage Foundation Collections
Herman Mark

BET theory, named after its developers Stephen Brunauer, Paul Hugh Emmett, and Edward Teller, is used to measure surface areas of materials. At the symposium, Burtron H. Davis of the University of Kentucky noted that it built upon an earlier surface theory devised by Nobel Prize winner Irving Langmuir to describe how a single layer of molecules adsorbs onto a substrate. But the BET model is based on multilayer adsorption. Experiments by Brunauer and Emmett on surface areas of porous materials and metals and on surface compositions of multicomponent catalysts helped lead to BET theory. Although the general public knows Teller as the “father of the H-bomb,” his name is also associated with several well-known effects in chemistry and physics, including the Jahn-Teller effect. In an interview, he once indicated that if he received a Nobel Prize, it should be for BET theory.


Herman Mark

Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Henry Moseley
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Henry Moseley

Mark’s claim to fame was that he was the Geheimrat—a nickname in German meaning secret councilor—of polymer science. He carried out important scientific work on polymers in three countries but was forced to leave Germany and Austria before World War II. Although he produced good science in the U.S., he is better known for founding the Polymer Research Institute at Brooklyn’s Polytechnic Institute and the Journal of Polymer Science. The community never got behind his nomination for a Nobel, said Gary D. Patterson of Carnegie Mellon University, who presented a talk on Mark in San Diego.


Credit: Ian Fleming
R.B Woodward
Credit: Ian Fleming
R.B Woodward

Henry Moseley

Moseley deserved to win a Nobel Prize in chemistry or physics because of his use of X-ray spectroscopy to demonstrate the importance of atomic number over atomic weight in organizing the periodic table, said Virginia Trimble of the University of California, Irvine, who spoke about Moseley at the session in San Diego. Although he was nominated for both prizes in 1915 by famed physical chemist Svante Arrhenius, Moseley did not receive one because, by the time the committees deliberated, he was dead—shot at the Battle of Gallipoli during World War I.

Credit: Wikimedia commons
Yevgenii Zavoiskii
Credit: Wikimedia commons
Yevgenii Zavoiskii


R.B. Woodward

Woodward, a much-beloved figure in the chemistry community, won the 1965 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the synthesis of complex organic molecules. But he could have earned one more Nobel Prize for codeveloping the Woodward-Hoffmann rules with theoretical chemist Roald Hoffmann. Hoffmann received the 1981 chemistry prize for that work, but Woodward had died in 1979. Jeffrey Seeman, a chemical historian at the University of Richmond, discussed Woodward at the ACS session.


Yevgenii Konstantinovich Zavoiskii

Zavoiskii was the first person to build a magnetic resonance spectrometer, said David E. Lewis of the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, who discussed the researcher at the ACS meeting. Zavoiskii observed the first nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) signal, but his magnetic field did not have sufficient homogeneity to generate signals with reproducible frequency or amplitude. He thus demonstrated that NMR was possible but very hard to do. He also observed the first reproducible magnetic resonance signal—from electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR), from which reproducible signals were easier to obtain. Powerful individuals in the Russian scientific establishment greeted Zavoiskii’s initial EPR signal observation with skepticism, so he was not nominated for the Nobel until after others had already won for NMR. Only one Russian Nobel Laureate actually nominated him, and his chance was therefore lost, Lewis explained.


Credit: CHF/wikimedia common
Carl Djerassi
Credit: CHF/wikimedia common
Carl Djerassi

Reader nominations:


Talbert “Ted” Abrams

Credit: Don Christian
Henry Eyring circa 1951.
Credit: Don Christian
Henry Eyring circa 1951.

I always thought that Ted Abrams should have won a Nobel in chemistry or medicine. He discovered the cephalosporins, first isolated them, and determined their structure, work that led to the biggest class of clinically used antibiotics ever. What was not generally known was that he was the first person to suggest that penicillin was structurally a β-lactam. At that time, his professor, Robert Robinson, was so convinced Abrams was wrong that he refused to let him publish. Thus, R. B. Woodward now gets credit [for that structure assignment].

—Robin Cooper, via C&EN’s website


Credit: Newscom
Rosalind Franklin
Credit: Newscom
Rosalind Franklin

Carl Djerassi

A glaring example of a chemist [snubbed for a Nobel] whose work changed society is the late Carl Djerassi, the “father” of the oral contraceptive pill. His work in that field has had an impact upon society worldwide equal to or even surpassing that of the discovery of penicillin.

—Rob Ronald, via C&EN’s website


Credit: Newscom
Percy Julian
Credit: Newscom
Percy Julian

Henry Eyring

I knew Henry Eyring [who discovered transition-state theory] and had numerous discussions with him, some not on chemistry. His depth of insight in chemical reactions was amazing. Eyring deserved a Nobel Prize.

—E. G. Meyer, via C&EN’s website


Credit: UC Berkeley Lawrence Berkeley National Lab
Lewis, a leading figure in the history of chemical bonding, shown in his UC Berkeley lab in the 1940s.
Credit: UC Berkeley Lawrence Berkeley National Lab
Lewis, a leading figure in the history of chemical bonding, shown in his UC Berkeley lab in the 1940s.

Rosalind Franklin

Another chemist who was also omitted and should have been given the Nobel Prize was Rosalind Franklin for her brilliant research in discovering the α-helix structure [of DNA] by X-ray crystallography.

—Harold Edelstein, via C&EN’s website

Editor’s note: Franklin died in 1958, four years before James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins won a 1962 Nobel for solving the structure.

Credit: Smithsonian Institution Archives
Lise Meitner
Credit: Smithsonian Institution Archives
Lise Meitner


Percy Julian

Percy Julian’s work on steroid chemistry was never truly considered for a number of reasons. The wide range of applications of his work is amazing.

—Melissa Bickford, via C&EN’s website

Editor’s note: Julian pioneered chemical syntheses of plant-based medicinal drugs, including the glaucoma treatment physostigmine, helping lay the foundation of the steroid drug industry.


G. N. Lewis

There is a wonderful book published several years ago called “The Cathedrals of Science” that looks deeply at why [physical chemist] G. N. Lewis never got the chemistry Nobel Prize. He is the most nominated nonwinner in the history of the Nobels. One of his troubles was starting fights with influential people in the Nobel committee.

—Neil Gussman, via C&EN’s website

Editor’s note: A talk about G. N. Lewis was planned for the symposium held in San Diego, but it was canceled because the speaker could not travel for medical reasons.


Lise Meitner

However deserving these gentlemen [on the original list] were science-wise, this is so far a list of one race and gender. I think at minimum Rosalind Franklin and Lise Meitner should be included.

—AlyP, via C&EN’s website

Editor’s note: Meitner made pioneering advances in radioactivity and nuclear physics, including the discovery of nuclear fission of uranium with German radiochemist Otto Hahn. Hahn, however, took home the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for nuclear fission all by himself.



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Bright Emenike (April 11, 2016 9:09 PM)
Credible list. I would add John D. Roberts (Caltech) to that list. From Benzyne chemistry to mechanistic investigation using isotope labeling. Imagine organic chemistry without NMR!
SpeedyGonzales (April 13, 2016 6:52 AM)
JD Roberts is still with us, so maybe he has a chance!
David I Schuster (April 13, 2016 4:33 PM)
For the use of NMR in Organic Chemistry alone, Jack Roberts deserves the Nobel Prize, and should have been awarded it many years ago,. I remember as a grad student with JDR in the late '50s when we had the only NMR machine, a very quirky and unstable 40 Mz instrument, in the United States. We learned something from every spectrum we took, and frequently ran spectra for people who sent samples to Caltech. Jack pioneered the use of NMR and had a huge impact on the field, but never got the recognition he deserved.
David Schuster (April 14, 2016 9:08 AM)
I meant to say that Jack Roberts had the first NMR Spectrometer in an organic chemistry lab in the U.S. Herb Gutowsky, a physical chemist, had an instrument at Illinois and I believe there was one in Central Research at DuPont, where Roberts was a consultant for many years.
Curious Wavefunction (April 12, 2016 10:56 AM)
Nice list. However I have to say I am astounded that G N Lewis was not included on it. His contributions to modern chemistry are absolutely fundamental and he's generally recognized as the greatest American chemist to not win the Nobel, so I am genuinely puzzled as to why this list - subjective as it would be - would leave him out. There is a great account of the clash of personalities and plausible reasons why Lewis did not win in the book "Cathedrals of Science".
SpeedyGonzales (April 13, 2016 6:55 AM)
G N Lewis is a huge omission. I'd also add Henry Eyring for transition state theory. Even though it might be a hackneyed choice, I'd throw in Carl Djerassi to the list as well. Even absent his contributions to hormonal birth control, his contributions to natural product chemistry, and other steroidal chemistry are staggering!
Amanda Yarnell (April 13, 2016 8:48 AM)
CW: C&EN selected the five chemists on this list from the 10 who were highlighted by speakers in a Division of the History of Chemistry session at the recent ACS meeting in San Diego. Interestingly, Lewis--whose contributions I agree were absolutely fundamental--was not not among them.

We're working to update this story with a list of readers' picks. So please leave them here in the comments.
Neil Gussman (April 13, 2016 3:33 PM)
Amanda--There is a wonderful book published several years ago called "The Cathedrals of Science" that looks deeply at why GN Lewis never got the chemistry Nobel Prize. He is the most nominated non-winner in the history of the Nobels. One of his troubles was starting fights with influential people in the Nobel committee.
Also, Istvan Hargittai has written extensively on who does not get Nobel prizes. His several books are worth a look.
EF Healy (April 17, 2016 2:24 PM)
As per the nomination data available from the Nobel website C K Ingold had received 74 nominations through 1964. While the 50 year moratorium on releasing such information limits the information available, given that Ingold was receiving on average 4-7 nominations a year to that point it is possible that Ingold, by the time of his death in 1970, might well have been not just the most nominated non-winner in Chemistry, but the most nominated Chemist period. RB Woodward, as was noted in discussions at the symposium, received 93 nominations.
Seth Rasmussen (HIST Program Chair) (April 13, 2016 3:48 PM)
Amanda: Both Lewis and Bartlett were originally included in the HIST symposium. Unfortunately, both of the authors of those talks were unable to present for health reasons. Plans are in the works to prepare an ACS Symposium Book on the topic, which would then include the two missing topics.
Smarajit Mitra (April 15, 2016 10:49 AM)
Though, G.N. Lewis was not part of the list covered in the Symposium, I did present a paper in San Diego in the History of Chemistry Division on G. N. Lewis' famous paper on the chemical bond. This year is the centennial of the publication of that landmark paper.
NavNath (May 12, 2016 3:59 AM)
it is there in the list plz see it carefully.
Wirawan Ciptonugroho (April 12, 2016 12:32 PM)
I think Gabor Samorjai should be included in the list
Sean Andrews (April 13, 2016 2:22 PM)
Absolutely. Though, he never will, since Ertl did in 2007. Was passed over possibly for political reasons.
Carol Smith Hemminger (May 11, 2016 5:06 PM)
I strongly disagree: Gabor Somorjai should not be included in the list. He was not passed over for political reasons, but rather because of the uneven quality of the work that he published and unsubstantiated results that he published. My PhD thesis with Professor Somorjai (1978) includes brief discussions of major issues with the research that he published with Donald Blakely on the efficacy of platinum single crystal surface defect sites in the catalysis of hydrocarbon reactions. Professor Somorjai told me that he considered the work with Donald Blakely to be the "crowning achievement" of his career (at that time) and he steadfastly refused to review the new, contradictory, results that I obtained with the same platinum samples and laboratory equipment, but under more controlled experimental conditions. One of the platinum surfaces prepared and used by Donald Blakely was determined by the Professor David Shirley research group (and subsequently confirmed by me) to be a highly kinked surface instead of a stepped surface with very low kink density. If the results obtained with this platinum sample are plotted appropriately, they alone demonstrate clearly that the Somorjai/Blakely results do not support their published conclusions.
Jeremy Wessel (April 12, 2016 1:09 PM)
I agree about Lewis. I would also add Josiah Willard Gibbs to the list. Like Mendeleev, he didn't live long enough to get the Nobel.
Vishal Thackeray (April 13, 2016 12:47 PM)
G.N.Lewis was nominated 36 times! but his credibility and hard work doesnt yield him prize. Most probably from my piece of knowlege is because of Arrhenius?
robin cooper (April 13, 2016 2:05 PM)
I always thought that Ted Abrahams should have won a Nobel, but whether in Chemistry or Medicine? He discovered the cephalosporins, first isolated them, determined structure, isolated the nucleus which was the backbone of the biggest class of clinically used antibiotics ever. What was not generally known was that he was the first person to suggest the structure of penicillin was a beta lactam, but at that time his Professor, Sir Robert Robinson was so convinced he was wrong that he refused to let him publish thus Robert Woodward now gets that credit.
AlyP (April 13, 2016 2:07 PM)
However deserving these gentlemen were science-wise, this is so far a list of one race and gender. I think at minimum Rosalind Franklin and Lise Meitner should be included, but there are also a number of male and female members of minorities that deserve the prizes but did not receive them for various reasons.

(Thank you Amanda Yarnell for mentioning that the list will be expanded to include suggestions!)
Harold Edelstein (April 13, 2016 2:09 PM)
Another chemist who was also omitted and should have been given the Nobel Prize was Rosalind Franklin for her brilliant research in discovering the alpha helix structure by X ray crystallization. Many feel the intrigue by Watson, Crick and Wilkins undoubtedly contributed to her being left out.
YAHIA HAMADA (January 4, 2017 3:39 PM)
I agree with Harold on the idea that Rosalind F. Should have won it along side Watson and Grick.
Paul J. Karol (April 13, 2016 2:15 PM)
Very interesting theme for the History of Chemistry Division. I would (tentatively) suggest a provocative follow-up symposium on Nobel laureates who should not have been awarded the prize.
Ronald G Lawler (April 13, 2016 3:17 PM)
There is a great quote from physicist Freeman Dyson who was left out of the Noble Prize for quantum electrodynamics, mainly because including him among the three, well deserved, winners would have exceeded the limit on the number of awards for a single prize. When asked in his later years whether he resented being left out, his reply was "It is better to be asked why you did not win a Nobel Prize than to be asked why you did."
Nate Wymer (April 13, 2016 2:16 PM)
Gilbert Lewis is certainly deserving. Fritz London could also be added to the list.
paul bigeleisen (April 13, 2016 2:17 PM)
I think you're comments about geniuses who were never recognized is very poignant. Few prizes are given. Perhaps the part that your story overlooks is the need for backing from prior laureates in order to have a high probability to win the prize. Some scientists are too shy to campaign for help or feel that it would be unprofessional to ask for help.

Fortunately, many more genius awards are now available. While the Nobel prize is still the most widely recognized and perhaps the most coveted prize, other prizes confer nearly the same stature and recognition. In addition, the Noble prize is only given in physics, chemistry, literature, medicine and peace. There are some forms of art, science and mathematics that are not included in these broad categories.

I think my father, Jacob Bigeleisen, was a good candidate for a Nobel prize. He was the father of modern isotope chemistry. His discoveries are now used in biology, medicine, geology,astronomy, pharmacology, and solid state physics. I suspect he was to shy to campaign for a medal. His work really fell in the boundary between chemistry and physics, so that may have been a reason why he was overlooked. For most of his life, he did not feel slighted by this lack of recognition. But shortly before he died, he told me he felt he had been unfairly overlooked. Sincerely, Paul Bigeleisen
Stephen Koch (September 27, 2016 3:10 PM)
Paul, In case you have not seen this: In his new book "The Chemistry Book: From Gunpowder to Graphene, 250 Milestones in the History of Chemistry" Derek Lowe highlights Jake Bigeleisen's contribution to kinetic Isotope effects

E G Meyer (April 13, 2016 2:27 PM)
I took Thermodynamics using Lewis and Randall. It was a wonderful text (still have it), and amply demonstrated the seminal contributions of G.N. Lewis. I knew Henry Eyring and had numerous discussions with him (some not on chemistry). His depth of insight in chemical reactions was amazing. Both Lewis and Eyring deserved Nobel Prizes.
Philip C. Hanawalt (April 13, 2016 2:30 PM)
While those in your list and many others are highly deserving of this ultimate recognition I would like to see a few from the feminine persuasion (women!)included as well.
Jim Mayer (April 13, 2016 2:36 PM)
In my view, the most glaring omission from the list is Neil Bartlett, for the discovery of noble gas compounds.
Steve Keller (November 2, 2017 3:11 PM)
Totally agree!
Andrzej W. Miziolek (April 13, 2016 2:47 PM)
Besides G.N. Lewis, another omission from UC Berkeley is George C. Pimentel. He invented the chemical laser, rapid-scan spectroscopy, matrix isolation spectroscopy, and his team built the infrared spectrometer for the NASA Mariner 6&7 missions to Mars.
Rich Taylor (April 13, 2016 3:06 PM)
I would put Morris Kharasch near the top of my list. Folks who were my age now back when I was a grad student talked about him in reverential tones. About 1/3 of the sophomore organic text is based on his work. The folks who worked under him over the years are hall of famers.
L. Charles Hardy (April 13, 2016 3:16 PM)
Clarification -- from "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1987 was awarded jointly to Donald J. Cram, Jean-Marie Lehn and Charles J. Pedersen "for their development and use of molecules with structure-specific interactions of high selectivity"." Pedersen was from DuPont.

Fred Basolo worked wonders with the inorganic reaction mechanisms that we all rely on.
Rob Ronald (April 13, 2016 3:58 PM)
A glaring example of a chemist whose work changed society is the late Carl Djerassi, the so-called "father" of the oral contraceptive pill. His work in that field has had an impact upon society, worldwide, equal to, or even surpassing the discovery of Penicillins.
Joe Atkinson (April 13, 2016 4:05 PM)
Neil Bartlett also gets my vote!
Chris Orvig (May 12, 2016 3:10 PM)
The 45 year exclusion of Neil Bartlett for the first "inert gas" compound XePtF6 (it was published in 1962 and he passed away in 2008) will forever be one of the most egregious omissions in all Nobel history.
James Woodbrey (April 13, 2016 4:24 PM)
No, Bartlett's omission may have been glaring, but not the most glaring omission. That term applies to the omission of Herbert Gutowsky for his most worthy introduction of the use of NMR in Chemistry. Very early he pioneered the chemical shift, explained spin-spin coupling, developed the time-dependent Bloch equations and launched the use of relaxation phenomena. While the work of awardee Richard Ernst was meritorious, it was late and stood on Gutowsky's shoulders.
E. Thomas Strom (April 13, 2016 4:52 PM)
As organizer of the symposium, I didn't have any predetermined list. For sure I was going to talk on Carothers and I wanted presentations on Mendeleev and G. N. Lewis, but most of the other presentations came from the ideas of the speakers. Neil Bartlett was on the list, but that presenter had a family medical emergency, so he had to cancel. What happened to the G. N Lewis talk? The person who agreed to give the Lewis presentation couldn't travel for medical reasons. Bottom line---there are lots of neglected chemists who did Nobel-level work, and not all of them were represented in this symposium.
Victoria Nguyen (April 13, 2016 4:56 PM)
Who were the other 5 chemists that were highlighted at the San Diego meeting but not in the C&EN article?
Stephen Weininger (April 13, 2016 10:22 PM)
Henry Moseley, Herman Mark, Stephen Brunauer, Yevgenii Konstantinovich Zavoiskii and R. B. Woodward (a second prize).
Wolfgang H. H. Gunther (April 13, 2016 5:04 PM)
The 1987 Nobel Prize to Lehn was shared with Donald Cram and Charles J. Pedersen of DuPont. So the committee actually made a choice between two DuPont scientists to meet the limit of three shared recipients. And then there was Eastman Kodak that kept a deep secret their own invention and extensive use since the 1960s of dithia crown ethers with great affinity for silver ion. The material on that is so well hidden, that I could not find a reference to share..
Doug Robello (May 2, 2016 1:08 PM)
I think the discoverer of thia-crown ethers at Kodak was Robert Dann. I remember reading a very entertaining internal publication by Dann, looking back on his research career. (BTW, among his anecdotes were a couple of processes that would horrify modern safety committees.) Apparently, Dann prepared his crowns ethers well ahead of Pederson's analogous work. However, Dann's discovery was hidden behind Kodak's infamous "silver curtain" because of the potential impact on photographic chemistry, and never published externally. In his memoir, Dann himself commented wistfully on his missed shot at the Nobel.

Also, hello Wolfgang!
Shawn (April 13, 2016 5:06 PM)
Every year I wait, and every year I'm disappointed that George Whitesides hasn't won.
James (August 2, 2017 1:11 AM)
He will win this year!
William R. Tasker (April 13, 2016 5:17 PM)
I would add Saul Winstein even he was a Canadian. His organic reactions were brilliant - bromonium ion in erythro and threo 3-bromo-2-butanol, norbornyl brosylate, and the phenonium ion. I enjoyed your article and the other chemists were also brilliant but when I was studying, Winstein was my favorite.
Karl Christe (April 13, 2016 6:50 PM)
Neil Bartlett would have been a wonderful choice.
Sam Snead (April 13, 2016 7:01 PM)
F. Albert Cotton deserves mention as well.
Robert Bubntrock (April 19, 2016 4:14 PM)
Scuttlebutt around that time said that Cotton was probably excluded because he campaigned too hard for the ACS Presidency (and possibly for the Nobel) and had some other skeletons in the closet.
Ioannis (April 14, 2016 6:13 AM)
J.C. Slater should probably be mentioned. I have heard from various sources that he was strongly considered for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1976, however he passed away that very same year. Perhaps in 1966 along with Mulliken (and maybe Hund or Roothaan) would have been more suitable.
Quan Vo (April 15, 2016 1:34 PM)
Good news. I always wonder why he was not awarded.
Rao Uwais A Khan (April 14, 2016 6:40 AM)
Please also include the name of Professor carl Djerassi for his valuable contribution
Shankaran. K (April 14, 2016 7:01 AM)
This is something my friend shared after reading this article and that is Prof. Raymond Lemieux of University of Alberta, Canada could have been awarded the Nobel for his advances in the area of carbohydrate chemistry. He was fighting a lone battle in this area and and we now know that carbohydrates area is one of the important area from chemistry to biology to vaccine development!
Mike Ford (April 14, 2016 8:40 AM)
Another chemist deserving more attention is Henry Gilman, who established the basis of modern organometallic chemistry.
Kishan Khemani (April 14, 2016 11:35 AM)
I also think Raymond V. Damadian should have been included in the award of the Nobel prize for his contributions to the discovery of MRI.
Melissa Bickford (April 14, 2016 1:03 PM)
Percy Julian's work on steroid chemistry was never truly considered for a number of reasons. The wide range of applications of his work is amazing.
Philip Wheeler (April 20, 2016 2:57 PM)
At least he got a Drunk History segment:
George M. Wyman (April 14, 2016 3:46 PM)
In 1955 I had to do a rush job to learn "all about fluorescence" and I found a book in the MIT library in German by the late Theodor Foerster entitled "Fluorescence of Organic Compounds". From this book I learned everything that there was to learn about the excited state chemistry of organic compounds. This opened up an entirely new field of reactions to researchers in organic chemistry and photochemistry.

Foerster spoke little English and the book was never translated. After WWII he remained at the modest Technical University of Stuttgart until his death in 1979.
Prof Dr Abul Khair (April 15, 2016 1:39 AM)
As an Inorganic Chemist my mind always bleeds for Dmitri Mendeleev but at the same time I will uphold the Nobel Committee.

Every year you can present a catalog of say one hundred extraordinary chemists. But one hits the jack pot.

Moreover, because of development the world is running out of admirers, running out of followers, and coming across more and more distinguished leaders.
Devendra (April 15, 2016 2:56 AM)
Politics and luck do play a role.

Karl R. Kopeckt (April 15, 2016 1:33 PM)
Paul Kebarle is an overlooked candidate for this Prize. He invented high pressure mass spectrometry and measured accurately the thermodynamics of the equilibria between ions and neutral molecules in the gas phase. His research has made an impact on many fields of chemistry, ranging from quantum chemistry through organic and on to biological chemistry, as well as explaining why radio waves are reflected by the ionosphere. He showed that in the gas phase potassium ion binds more strongly to benzene than it does to water. This cation-pi interaction is important in protein folding and ion transport through membranes.
Randy Hardee (April 18, 2016 10:49 AM)
At least the chemistry Nobel committee works conscientiously to award the prize to deserving people. They don't use it to score silly political points, like giving it to President Obama before he'd had the chance to do anything, or to flaunt their own erudition, like the literature people.
Bob Buntrock (April 19, 2016 4:17 PM)
Unnecessary political commentary, too much of that in the chemistry field already.
Robert Buntrock (April 19, 2016 4:22 PM)
I nominate Paul von R. Schleyer for his amazing production of research and publications in physical organic chemistry from the synthesis of adamantine to refereeing the non-classical carbonium ion wars to hundreds of papers on computational chemistry. He was also an excellent teacher. I and others wrote some testimonials to him after his death last year.
Robert Buntrock (April 19, 2016 4:33 PM)
I read with great interest this article and I’m happy that the additional five non-winners plus reader comments were included in this online version. I hear both Dewar and Simmons speak at Princeton when I was a grad student there in the ‘60s. As I recall, Dewar did not pick any fights but I could see where he could and I don’t recall Paul Schleyer’s response to his presentation (often good for fireworks). Simmons spoke twice since Schleyer was always bringing in chemist whose work he appreciated inlcuding industrial chemists. My impression of Simmons was excellent research, well presented, but very quiet and mild mannered which was given as a possible reason for his not campaigning for awards. As Leo Durosher is often quoted, “nice guys finish last”.

I agree with many of the other nominations by readers, especially Carl Djerassi, and I’ll add Paul Schleyer to the list as outlined in another reply.

Bob Buntrock
Orono, ME
Robert Buntrock (April 19, 2016 5:00 PM)
An additional comment on Dewar: he at times over extended the value of semi-empirical computational chemistry when he published that Diels Alder reactions were not concerted, this in the face of much evidence that they are. This was followed by quiet affirmation of many chemists that the calculations were not sufficiently accurate and that Diels Alder reactions (my personal favorite) were indeed concerted.
John W. Collette (April 20, 2016 11:49 AM)
Re: Howard Simmons
As a colleague of Howard Simmons at the time of the discovery of the crown ethers, I agree he was a brilliant scientist and a highly effective leader of DuPont Central Research. But he did not discover the crown ethers. Charlie Peterson, a very talented DuPont chemist, personally discovered them in the course of his applied research. Charlie explored their structural requirements and provided the initial framework for the work that Lehn and Donald Cram carried out in defining the field of cryptands. Appropriately, all three shared the resultant Nobel Prize.
Steve (April 20, 2016 12:59 PM)
Raymond Lemieux for contributions to carbohydrate chemistry. Won the Wolf Prize in Chemistry in 1999, and many Wolf Prize recipients go on to win Nobel Prizes. Had he not passed away only a year later, he should have won.
Jerry Meyer (April 20, 2016 2:06 PM)
Number 1 on the list should be G.N. Lewis.
Norman Oppenheimer (April 20, 2016 8:22 PM)
Martin Kamen and the Synthesis of C-14

Martin Kamen and Sam Ruben, working in Lawerence’s group at the University of California, Berkeley, calculated that there could be a longer-lived isotope of carbon than C-11 and set about synthesizing it. In 1940 they had indeed made C-14 and found its half-life to be over 5000 years. They were well aware of its great potential usefulness.

The discoverers of C-14, however, did not receive the Nobel Prize. The most likely explanation for this oversight are political. Dr. Kamen’s problems resulted from allegations that he transmitted Manhattan Project secrets to the Soviet Union. After the war his subsequent interactions with the House Committee on Unamerican Activities did further damage to his reputation. In the end all accusations were found to be baseless, but his time had passed. Two Nobel Prizes were awarded for the use of C-14. In 1946 Calvin used C-14 as a tracer to study photosynthesis and received his Nobel Prize in 1961. Willard Libby received the Noble Prize in 1960 for his development of the C-14 radiometric dating method.
Aaron L. (April 28, 2016 1:49 PM)
"this is so far a list of one race and gender"

Happily, the Nobel Prize is typically awarded on merit, and not based upon skin color or genital morphology.

Jacob Mathew (May 3, 2016 12:04 AM)
I would agree that John Roberts and Carl Djerassi deserved Noble prize for their contributions to Organic chemistry and Organic Synthesis respectively. A name not mentioned in the article is Columbia University Organic Chemistry Professor Gilbert Stork whose seminal contributions in the discovery and applications of Enamines in synthetic Organic chemistry surely deserves Noble Prize. His work on Enamines during the fifties and sixties made it possible to synthesize a variety of unknown organic structures that were considered a formidable challenge.
Simon Cotton (September 19, 2016 4:48 AM)
To me, Mendeleev and Lewis are the stand-out omissions. However I don't think that anyone has yet mentioned Richard Barrer, founding father of zeolite chemistry, who I understand received several nominations in the year of his death (1996).
William T. Winter (September 19, 2016 1:00 PM)
The discussion of Rosalind Franklin and her contributions found in the comment by Harold Edelstein is wrong in that it refers to the alpha helix of DNA. The alpha helix was a model for one type of polypeptide structure first proposed by Linus Pauling at CalTech. Later, Max Perutz, Cavendish Lab, U. Cambridge, observed evidence in the diffraction pattern of hemoglobin that was consistent with the existence of this structure as a local motif within protein crystal structures. The DNA double helical structure, had its origins in interpretive models based on Franklin's DNA data and but developed by James D. Watson and Francis H.C. Crick.
Ramon (December 29, 2016 3:10 AM)
What about David Evans. The most important chiral auxiliary ever
virginia trimble (June 19, 2017 7:27 PM)
Mea culpa! It was Rutherford not Arrhenius who nominated Moseley for chemistry & physics in 1915.
For the 2017 meeting we of history section plan a session on women who should have won.. "My"
heroine is Marietta Blau, whose prize went to Colin Powell (use of nuclear emulsions for cosmic
ray studies and discovery of "stars" of disintegration)

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