Nobel predictions over the years

October 6, 2021 at 1:16 pm | | nobel

2008 Tsien (predicted 2008)

2010 Suzuki & Heck (predicted among others in 2010)

2012 Kobilka (among my 6 predictions in 2012)

2013 Higgs (among my 2 predictions in 2013)

2014 Moerner (among my 3 predictions in 2013); Betzig & Hell (predicted among others in 2010)

2018 Allison (predicted in 2018)

2019 Goodenough (predicted 2019)

2020 Doudna & Charpentier (predicted 2020)

2021 Nobel Prize Predictions

September 16, 2021 at 8:07 am | | nobel

Medicine: Adenovirus vector vaccines

Medicine (alternate): A second Nobel Prize for Ivermectin ;)

Chemistry: Katalin Karikó, Drew Weissman, Ugur Sahin, Özlem Türeci, & Robert Malone, for developing mRNA & liposome vaccine technology.

Peace: Mike Pence, for following his oath of office and standing up to pressure and physical threats to carry out his Constitutional duties on January 6.

2020 Nobel prize predictions

September 20, 2020 at 4:11 pm | | nobel

CRISPR: Jennifer Doudna, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Francisco Mojica, Virginijus Siksnys EDIT: Announcement.

(This year, I’m only predicting the chemistry prize.)

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.

2018 nobel prize predictions

September 20, 2018 at 2:01 pm | | nobel

It’s approaching Nobel season again, and here are my predictions:

Chemistry: Cytoskeletal motor proteins (Ron Vale, Mike Sheetz, Jim Spudich)

Medicine: T-cell and cancer immunotherapy (Jim Allison, Stephen Rosenberg, Philippa Marrack)

Physics: Dark matter (Sandra Faber, Margaret Geller, Jerry Ostriker, Helen Quinn)

I know I’ve made this prediction before, but I think it’s high time that the discovery of kinesin and early observations of single myosin activity is recognized by the Nobel committee. UPDATE: Darn. Wrong again. Phage display and protein engineering by directed evolution. Cool!

In 2016, I predicted T-cell receptor, but in the meantime cancer immunotherapy has continued to grow, so I’m tweaking the predicted winners a little. I’m not naive enough to think that we’re on the cusp of curing cancer, but it’s the first time that I thought it might be possible to—someday—conquer the disease. UPDATE: I got 1/2 of the prize correct.

Unfortunately, Vera Rubin was never awarded a Nobel Prize, but the committee could honor her memory by awarding some other deserving astrophysicists with the prize this year. UPDATE: Nope. It went to laser tweezers and ultrafast laser pulses. Interesting: these are reminiscent of some late-90s awards to Zewail and Chu.


My past predictions: I’ve made (partially) correct predictions in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2017. Other predictions ended up coming to fruition in subsequent years, such as gravitational waves, super-resolution and single-molecule microscopy,

Citation Laureates

C&E News


ChemistryViews voting



2017 nobel prize predictions

September 20, 2017 at 10:14 am | | nobel

It’s approaching Nobel season again, and here are my predictions:

Chemistry: CRISPR (Doudna, Charpentier, Zhang) [awarded in 2020]

Medicine: Unfolded protein response (Walter, Mori)

Physics: Gravitational waves (Kip Thorne, Rainer Weiss, Ronald Drever, or maybe Barry Barish and the entire LIGO collaboration)

Last year, I think the detection gravitational waves happened a little too late to actually be selected for 2016. But now it’s a year later! Unfortunately, Ronald Drever passed away in the meantime.

In years past, I think CRISPR’s potential had not been actualized enough to win, but by this time it’s obvious that the technology works and is already impacting science. Lithium batteries have changed the world, and John Goodenough deserves the prize. But he recently announced a new battery technology that some scientists are skeptical will work. Maybe that’s too much controversy for the Nobel committee?

I considered optogenetics (Deisseroth, Zemelman, Miesenböck, Isacoff), but I didn’t want to predict both that and CRISPR in one year. Since Peter Walter and Kazutoshi Mori won a Lasker prize a few years ago now, I think it’s their time.


My past predictions

Clarivate (formerly Thompson) Citation Laureates

C&E News webinar


Stat News

As always, excellent prediction and discussion at Curious Wavefunction

2016 nobel prize predictions

September 9, 2016 at 11:39 am | | nobel

UPDATE: Turns out the Simpsons were right once again

Time for my 2016 Nobel Prize predictions:

Chemistry: Lithium-ion batteries (John Goodenough, Stanley Whittingham, Akira Yoshino) [awarded in 2019]

Medicine: T-cell receptor (James Allison [awarded in 2018], Ellis Reinherz, Philippa Marrack)

Physics: Gravitational waves (Kip Thorne [awarded in 2017], Rainer Weiss [awarded in 2017], Ronald Drever, or maybe the LIGO collaboration)

Last year, I played the CRISPR card and lost. Also, I guess that I must stop saying “Ron Vale for kinesin” over and over again. So I tried to keep things fresh this year, but both my medicine and chemistry predictions are repeats.

For physics, I’d like to see the prize go to the entire LIGO collaboration, considering that there were thousands of scientist involved in demonstrating Einstein’s predictions. But I understand why the Nobel committee would prefer to award it to individuals, and there are 3 who are kinda obvious. 2016 might be too early for this award, considering the nominations are due Feb 1, but probably someone knew the gravitational waves discovery was imminent and nominated them? Or maybe my prediction is wrong, and it will exoplanets this year.

For chemistry, I think polymer synthesis could win, but it might not be sexy enough. I think batteries have demonstrated their impact on the world of portable electronics and electric cars. And Goodenough is old. I know I’ve predicted batteries in the past, but I hope I’m right this time!

Hopefully Nature doesn’t make fun of me again this year.

(See my past predictions and discussions here.)

Other predictions:

Thompson ISI

Curious Wavefunction

In the Pipeline

Transcription and Translation

2015 nobel in medicine: parasites

October 5, 2015 at 4:28 pm | | nobel

I love this year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine. Curious Wavefunction has a great writeup on it. I love that it was awarded for efforts to help prevent painful and fatal diseases the inflict millions around the world, especially in poorer countries. I also love that it recognizes how Artemisinin was derived from traditional medicine, but then isolated and tested for effectiveness and safety. There needs to be more of that. Traditional medicines may certainly be effective, probably because they contain some active drug that influences the body. But I don’t want to take unknown doses of unknown chemicals please.

2015 nobel prize predictions

September 9, 2015 at 1:48 pm | | nobel

Time for Nobel Prize predictions. (See my past predictions and discussions here.) My 2015 predictions:

Chemistry: CRISPR: Doudna, Charpentier [awarded in 2020]

Medicine: Immune Cancer Therapy: James Allison [awarded in 2018], Michel Sadelain

Physics: Electromagnetically Induced Transparency: Lene Hau, Steve Harris

Peace: Ebola: Médecins Sans Frontières

2014 Nobel roundup

October 8, 2014 at 11:06 am | | history, news, nobel

W.E. Moerner is really the father of single-molecule spectroscopy. It’s not surprising that a prize for single molecules went to him. His early work laid the foundation for single-molecule photophysics that made PALM-type super-resolution possible.

Also, most people don’t realize that almost all the early cryogenic single-molecule imaging resolved molecules that were closer than the diffraction limit. At temperatures near absolute zero, the spectral linewidths get super narrow. This means that any one laser wavelength excites only a fraction of the dyes in a crystal; dyes in different parts of the solid experience slightly different nano environments, and their spectral properties are different. This is called inhomogeneous broadening. By tuning the wavelength of a dye laser, Moerner and others were able to excite different dyes at different times, all within one diffraction-limited laser spot. That was routinely done, and many of the early single-molecule images were actually plots of intensity, with distance on one axis (moving the laser spot) and wavelength on the other (changing the laser color).


Fluorescence excitation spectra for pentacene in p-terphenyl at 1.5 K measured with a tunable dye laser of line width ∼3 MHz. The laser detuning frequency is referenced to the line center at 592.321 nm. (a) Broad scan of the inhomogeneously broadened line; all the sharp features are repeatable structure. (b) Expansion of 2 GHz spectral range showing several single molecules. (c) Low-power scan of a single molecule at 592.407 nm showing the lifetime-limited width of 7.8 MHz and a Lorentzian fit. [From: Moerner, W. E. J. Phys. Chem. B 2002, 106, 910– 927.]




[From: Ambrose, W. P. and Moerner, W. E. Nature 1991, 349, 225– 227]

Eric Betzig contributed to single-molecule spectroscopy early on, imaging single molecules at room temperature with near-field super-resolution microscopy (Betzig 1993) and proposing an early variant of PALM super-resolution imaging back in the 1990s (Betzig 1995). (His proposal was realized at cryogenic temperatures by van Oijen in 1998.) After that, he left science and worked at his father’s tool factory.

When Betzig heard about the development of GFPs that could be easily photoswitched on and off, he realized that these could be applied to his super-resolution concept he proposed a decade earlier (Betzig 1995). So he built a super-resolution microscope in his friend’s living room and published the first PALM paper in 2006. It should be noted that Xiaowei Zhuang and Sam Hess each independently published similar super-resolution methods in 2006 (Betzig 2006; Hess 2006; Rust 2006).

betzig early palm


[From: Betzig 1995]

Stefan Hell has a very interesting story. After proposing STED microscopy in the 1990s (Hell 1994), he worked for years with little funding and almost no support or recognition. A decade later he got his STED microscope producing super-resolution images and now he’s a huge force in the field.

It goes without saying that there were many others who contributed to the field of super-resolution and single-molecule imaging (Yanagida, Webb, Zhuang, Hess, Gustafsson, Lippincott-Schwartz, Zare, Vale, Orrit, Rigler, Xie, Cremer, Baer…) and many people will probably be disappointed. But is hard to argue that these three were not deserving and I congratulate them!

Also, Ash at Curious Wavefunction has a great summary. See my post from 2006 on super-resolution methods. And my single-molecule timeline (please excuse any omissions: it is impossible to include everyone!). And remember when the Simpsons predicted W.E. to win?

And full disclosure: W.E. was my PhD advisor. :)

Ambrose, W. P. and Moerner, W. E. Nature 1991, 349, 225– 227.

Betzig E and Chichester RJ (1993) Single molecules observed by near-field scanning optical microscopy. Science 262:1422-1425.

Betzig E (1995) Proposed method for molecular optical imaging. Opt Lett. 20:237-239.

Hell SW and Wichman J (1994) Breaking the diffraction resolution limit by stimulated emission: stimulated-emission-depletion-microscopy. Opt. Lett. 19:780-782.

Hess, S. T., Girirajan, T. P. K. and Mason, M. D. Biophys. J. 2006, 91, 4258–4272

Rust, M. J., Bates, M. and Zhuang, X. Nat. Methods 2006, 3, 793– 795

van Oijen AM, Kohler J, Schmidt J, Muller M and Brakenhoff GJ (1998) 3-Dimensional super-resolution by spectrally selective imaging. Chem. Phys. Lett. 292:183–187.

the one year i don’t predict w.e. moerner to win…

October 8, 2014 at 4:41 am | | nobel

Maybe I was jinxing it all those years. I will write more about my thoughts about the 2014 Nobel Prize soon…

UPDATE: My fav write-up:

But for every correct prediction, there are many more wrong ones. Sam Lord, a microscopy specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, got all of his picks wrong on his Everyday Scientist blog.

2014 nobel predictions

September 12, 2014 at 10:07 am | | news, nobel, science and the public

Time for 2014 Nobel Prize predictions. Actually, it’s a little early, but with Lasker Prize announcements, I just couldn’t wait. Here’s my track record:

So here are my 2014 predictions:

ChemistryNanotechnology: Alivisatos, Whitesides, Lieber

MedicineDNA/blottingSouthern, Jefferys, Burnette

PhysicsCloaking/nonlinear optics: Pendry, Harris

Peace: Ebola: Médecins Sans Frontières

Other and past predictions:

Biomolecular motors: Vale, Sheetz, Spudich, Brady

Unfolded protein response: Walter, Mori

Soft lithography and microfluidics: Whitesides, Quake

Chaperonins: Horwich, Hartl, Lindquist, Ellis

Polymers: Frechet, Matyjaszewski, Wang, Willson

Electrochemistry/bioinorganic: Bard, Gray, Lippard

Single-molecule spectroscopy: Moerner [awarded in 2014], Orrit

Solar: Grätzel, Nocera

DNA synthesis: Caruthers

Next-gen sequencing: Webb, Craighead, Klenerman, Church …

Super-resolution optical microscopy: Betzig [awarded in 2014], Hell [awarded in 2014], Zhuang, Hess

NMR and membranes: McConnell

Electron Transfer in DNA/Electrochemical DNA Damage Sensors: Barton, Giese, Schuster

Pd-catalyzed Alkyne/Alkene Coupling and Atom-Economy: Trost

Nuclear hormone receptors: Chambon, Evans, Jensen, O’Malley

Two-photon microscopy: Webb, Denk, Strickler

DNA microarrays: Brown

AIDS: Hütter

The Pill: Djerassi

T-cell receptor: Allison [awarded in 2018], Reinherz, Kappler, Marrack

Suggestions from others:

Quantum dots: Brus

Lithium-ion batteries: Goodenough, Whittingham, Yoshino

CRISPR: Doudna

Optogenetics: Deisseroth, Zemelman, Miesenböck, Isacoff

Other predictions:


Chemistry World

Curious Wavefunction

In the Pipeline

Inside Science

Cocktail Party Physics


2013 Nobel predictions

September 26, 2013 at 10:46 am | | nobel

The Curious Wavefunction, Thompson-Reuters, ChemBark, and In the Pipeline have all started making Nobel Prize predictions for 2013. Last year, I correctly predicted Kobilka for GPCRs. In 2010, I got Heck and Suzuki. (You can find my previous predictions here: 2012, 2011, 2010, all Nobel posts.) Here’s this year’s stab at it…


Moerner [awarded in 2014] and Orrit for single-molecule spectroscopy. Zare could easily be #3. Now that single-molecule imaging is effectively a routine tool in biophysics and single-molecule superresolution techniques like PALM/STORM are all the rage, it’s high time for a prize for this science. [FULL DISCLOSURE: I did my PhD with Moerner.]

Kris Matyjaszewski and Jean Frechet for polymer synthesis. Frechet invented chemically-amplified photoresists and developed dendrimer synthesis. Matyjaszewski was awarded the 2011 Wolf Prize. (Of course, others were involved in both discoveries.)

Al Bard and Harry Gray for bioinorganic chemistry and electron transfer. Both won Wolf prizes in the last decade.


Gero Hütter for curing AIDS. Once.

Art Horwich & Franz-Ulrich Hartl for chaperonins. Unlikely a chemistry Prize, because GPCR won last year, and they probably won’t do another biomolecule this year. They won the 2011 Lasker Prize.

Ron ValeJim Spudich, and Mike Sheetz for biomolecular motors. Remember, they won the 2012 Lasker Prize! Maybe a chemistry prize, but same issue as with Horwich and Hartl above.

Carl Djerassi for the Pill. Unlikely, because they gave a prize for test-tube babies a couple years ago, and that would have been a perfect time to include Carl.

Jim Allison [awarded in 2018]Ellis Reinherz, John Kappler, and Philippa Marrack for the discovery of the T-cell receptor. Oops, that’s too many people. Might not happen for that reason.


John Pendry and Steve Harris for cloaking and nonlinear optics.

Peter Higgs for that boson.


Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation for malaria and vaccine work.

George W. Bush for PEPFAR funding in Africa, now that AIDS rates in children are lower.

2012 nobel in chemistry: Kobilka and Lefkowitz

October 10, 2012 at 9:52 am | | news, nobel

Well, I predicted G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) and Brian Kobilka, but not Robert Lefkowitz. Congrats to both!

GPCRs are cell-surface receptors that translate signal from an extracellular ligand to a G-protein, a molecular “switch” turned on and off by GTP. (The discovery of the G-protein was awarded the 1994 Nobel in Medicine). GPCRs are very important in a variety of signaling in the human body, and most modern drugs target GPCRs.

Kobilka and Lefkowitz first had inklings of the structure of GPCRs in the 80s, when they began isolating and purifying the β2-adrenergic receptor (βAR). They eventually realized that the protein had seven transmembrane helices; to their surprise, that hinted at a very similar structure to rhodopsin—the component in the eye responsible for detecting light—another GPCR. This discovery implied that all the receptors that couple to G-proteins might have a conserved structure! Over the last few decades, Kobilka, Lefkowitz, and others have produced a bunch of structures for GPCRs, which should aid in future drug design.

I think it’s fascinating is that Kobilka was a postdoc with Lefkowitz many years ago. I wonder how often it happens that both the professor and a student/postdoc share a Nobel? Of course, Kobilka has performed enough work during his independent career to earn a Nobel, but I still think it’s cool that he won the award with his former professor. I’m not sure why Stevens or Palczewski were not also included in the prize, but it seems that the committee (given only three available slots, of course) stuck to the early discoveries that lead to the GPCR structures.

And I must discuss the concern from many corners that this is not “chemistry.” Why did it not win the medicine prize, instead? Well, I don’t know. It certainly could have won the prize in the medicine category, because of GPCR’s huge role in medicine! But the Nobel Committee seems to often place protein structures into the chemistry category [Update: see this great history]. I think that is reasonable: the task of isolating, purifying, crystallizing, and determining the structure of a protein is basically biochemistry, not medicine. And many of the individuals in the lab performing the tasks are probably chemists and biochemists. Maybe the lab isn’t located in a chemistry building, but neither is the lab that I work in, and I am certainly a chemist performing chemistry. (Well, right now I’m blogging.) I continue to think that these type of discoveries being labeled “chemistry” is great for the field of chemistry. Maybe I feel this way because I don’t perform “traditional” chemistry synthesizing small organic molecules. My research has spanned polymer physics, spectroscopy, optics, and cell biology. But I have applied my skills and knowledge of a physical chemist to all those sciences. As I said in my interview with (where I did not predict GPCRs):

The line between chemistry and other fields (especially biology) is often blurred, and that’s a wonderful thing; but this fact sometimes results in a chemistry Nobel Prize being awarded for a decidedly biological discovery (like the 2009 prize for the structure of the ribosome). This may be exacerbated by the fact that the physiology or medicine prize tends to go to things directly related to health, and the chemistry prize often is used to cover the more basic biological science feats. Personally, I think it is a testament to the central position the field of chemistry holds in the Venn diagram of science.

Biology is the next frontier for the physical sciences! There is so much to learn about how biomolecule, cells, and organisms work. Let’s embrace biology’s commingling with chemistry with all our hearts!

You can read more about GPCRs here:

Other bloggy commentary here:


October 3, 2012 at 2:39 pm | | news, nobel, science and the public, science community

Paul and I were interviewed for a article about Nobel Prize predictions. More details back at my original post on the 2012 Prize.

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