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On Foxes And Half-Full Glasses

Looks like the glass is half-empty around some of the chemistry blogosphere (and twittersphere, if that’s even a word) today. But here’s some good news. Consider Jack Szostak, the most chemistry-oriented of the Medicine-Nobel-winning trio. The fact he’s shared in this prize should matter a lot to people thinking about what kind of work *should* win the Nobel Prize.

Unlike his co-winners, Szostak isn’t really in the telomere field anymore. His interests have since shifted- to RNA and to the origins of life. Szostak is a fox in the Isaiah-Berlinian sense- someone who’s looked at the world through a variety of scientific lenses.

Szostak has had multiple scientific careers, Tom Cech, former HHMI president and himself a Nobel laureate (in chemistry) told me over the phone. “I don’t want to give the impression that he flits around from one thing to another. Whenever he moves into a new area, he makes deep and lasting contributions, and then moves on to something else where he can make a big impact,” he says.

In choosing the scientists who won for telomere biology, “clearly the Nobel Committee went back to the intent of Alfred Nobel’s will, which said that the award was supposed to honor an important discovery and not be a lifetime achievement award,” Cech adds.

UPDATE: FWIW, Terra Sig has a fantastic post about the chemistry prize. The money quote: “If I see electrons being pushed around, it’s chemistry.”


  • Oct 7th 200920:10
    by Abel Pharmboy

    Dr Drahl, thank you so much for the lovely comment on my money quote and the traffic you sent me. I had anticipated that my hardcore chemistry brethren and sisteren would express dismay at this being yet another biology prize in chemistry. The comment thread at Derek Lowe’s illustrates that I was correct in my prediction. But the point of my post was that it does not have to be synthetic organic chemistry to be chemistry. As I said, there were electrons being pushed around in Fig 7 of the Nobel scientific background narrative; hence, chemistry. Thanks again!

  • Oct 8th 200908:10
    by Carmen Drahl

    Wow- no need for the Dr. Drahl moniker-Carmen’s just fine. :) Despite having covered natural products for the magazine a few times, I hadn’t even considered that angle on the prize. And I agree with you- one of the mantras around our office is that ‘chemistry is everywhere’. Oftentimes because we’re talking about ‘chemical tools’ chemistry fades into the backstory. The fact that the ribosome prize is a chemistry prize highlights the importance of chemistry in getting the job done. Bravo to all in the field, I say.

  • Oct 8th 200911:10
    by Wavefunction

    The prize is certainly chemical, and we chemists should be happy that our discipline extends over such an astoundingly diverse domain, from solar cells to ribosomes. As I mentioned in previous posts, the very fact that the chemistry prize inspires such divided passions is a testament to the diversity of our field.

  • Oct 9th 200921:10
    by Cheryl Hogue

    It’s Twitterverse.

  • Oct 15th 200904:10
    by Neil Gussman

    Carmen–”pushing electrons” is a reminder of one of the greatest chemists not to get the Nobel prize, Gilbert Lewis. The book Cathedrals of Science has some great stories of Nobel back stabbing and manipulation in the first half of the 20th century and Lewis certainly has one of the most oft-stabbed backs.

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    Aug 24th 201017:08
    by The Right Chemistry | Terra Sigillata

    [...] & Engineering News and co-blogger at the CENtral Science pharma blog, The Haystack. Carmen referenced my defense of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas Steitz, and [...]

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