2019 Nobel prize prediction

October 2, 2019 at 2:19 pm | | nobel

OK, it’s Nobel season again, and time for my annual blog post. (Quite literally this year, unfortunately.)

Chemistry: Lithium-ion batteries (John Goodenough) EDIT: Yay! Finally!

Medicine: DNA fingerprinting and blotting (Edwin Southern, Alec Jefferys, George Stark, Harry Towbin)

Physics: Two-photon microscopy (Watt Webb, Winfried Denk, Jim Strickler)

Last year, I correctly predicted Jim Allison. And I think I have to stop predicting Vale/Sheetz/Spudich, or my posts will look like copy-pastes. With the lawsuits in apparent stand-still, maybe this is the year for CRISPR, but I think the committee will wait a few more years until treatments come out of clinical trials.

Many sites are predicting metal-organic frameworks winning, namely Omar Yaghi. Maybe. Yaghi won the Wolf prize in 2018. And a Nobel for this work would put a spotlight on carbon capture and catalysis that might help fight global warming. But since no wide-scale efforts have actually been made to capture carbon or produce alternative fuels, I doubt MOFs will win.

The other climate-change related chemistry prize could conceivably be battery technology, especially John Goodenough, for the development of the lithium-ion battery. Given that he is 97, this would be the year to award it. Given that Alfred Nobel intended his prize to go to those who convey the “greatest benefit on mankind,” I think batteries would be fitting. (Note that I also thought it would be fitting back in 2016. I never learn.)

Another perennial prediction is DNA blotting and fingerprinting. In 2014, I predicted Southern, Jefferys, and Burnette. I’m repeating the prediction again this year. Southern and Jefferys won the Lasker award way back in 2005, and their techniques are widely used in the lab and in forensics. I’m tweaking my prediction to include Towbin, who more accurately invented Western blotting (although Neal Burnette was a genius at naming). I think these techniques have proved themselves invaluable to so many medical researchers, it would be a shame to not recognize their originators. (I acknowledge that the Nobel committee will not award this to 4 people. But I don’t know who to leave out.)

Another technique ubiquitous in biomedical imaging is two-photon microscopy. While super-resolution imaging won a few years ago, I think it would be OK to recognize the central importance of microscopy in many fields of science. By offering the capability to image deep into tissues and even live organisms, two-photon microscopy has given researchers amazing views of what would otherwise be unseeable. It is a powerful and popular technique that clearly should be recognized.

Well, that’s it for 2019. I’ve made many predictions in the past, which you can browse here.

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