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Nobel Prize

Who will win the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry?

C&EN and guest panelists share their predictions during the annual #ChemNobel Webinar

by Laura Howes
October 2, 2020


The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded for the invention of CRISPR genome editing. Read our story here.

Credit: C&EN/ACS Webinars
Watch this recording of the Oct. 1 webcast to see the panel discuss Nobel-worthy chemistry

While the run-up to Nobel Prize season might be slightly different this year, with fewer predictions discussed in person because of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, the nomination process in Sweden has carried on. Once again, C&EN invited a crack team of panelists to join in some (quasi)crystal ball gazing to predict who might win the coveted prize this year.

Science writer and historian Kit Chapman, metal-organic framework chemist Wendy L. Queen of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne (EPFL), and materials scientist Darryl Boyd of the US Naval Research Laboratory discussed whom they thought might get the call from Sweden in an hour-long webinar led by C&EN Senior Editor Laura Howes. Queen is a member of this year’s class of C&EN’s Talented 12, and Boyd is a member of the 2018 class.

As well as making predictions, the panelists and host discussed how the Nobel Prize awards ceremony might work this year with travel restrictions in place because of COVID-19. And the long-running debate on whether or not the chemistry prize is becoming too biological raised its head.

We asked webinar viewers to vote on who they thought would win the prize based on the panelists’ predictions. In 2019, the viewers correctly predicted that longtime favorite John B. Goodenough and colleagues would win for their work developing lithium-ion batteries. So the 2019 prize left the field wide open for this year’s predictions. In the end, there wasn’t one clear winner this year. K. Barry Sharpless got the most votes for developing click chemistry, but Cato Laurencin, Kristi Anseth, and Robert Langer were not far behind for their work on tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

Our panel members aren’t the only ones making predictions. For example, Clarivate’s Web of Science analysis of publication citations suggested three possible sets of winners: nanocrystal pioneers Moungi G. Bawendi, Christopher B. Murray, and Taeghwan Hyeon; cross-coupling superstars Stephen L. Buchwald and John F. Hartwig; and Makoto Fujita for his work on self-assembled supramolecular structures.

On his recently resurrected blog, ChemBark, Saint Louis University chemist Paul Bracher also ran the odds for many of the different names discussed in chemistry circles. His pick for most likely to win is Harry B. Gray, Richard H. Holm, and Stephen J. Lippard for their pioneering work in bioinorganic chemistry. Meanwhile, a poll run by Nature Chemistry editor Stu Cantrill on Twitter saw some combination of CRISPR researchers tipped for success.

ChemistryViews magazine also polled its readers on the gender and location of this year’s chemistry prize winners. They predicted that the winners would be male American biochemists, reflecting perhaps the fact that the prize rarely goes to members of underrepresented groups in science, or scientists outside of western Europe and North America. The Nobel Committee responded to the issue of diversity in a letter to the journal Nature last year, arguing that the “inequitable distribution of Nobel prizes is a symptom of a bigger problem” in science (DOI: 10.1038/d41586-019-03293-x).

The Nobel Prize Committee will announce the winners of the chemistry prize on Oct. 7 in Stockholm, so there is still time to watch the archived webinar embedded above and make your predictions. Check in with C&EN next week to see if any of the webinar’s panelists correctly divined the 2020 winners. We will be posting coverage of all of the science Nobel Prizes on our website, Twitter, and Facebook.

CRISPR genome editing gets 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna recognized for their invention of gene editing tool

Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna
Credit: Vilnius University; Laura Morton Photography
Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna


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