Sunday, October 14, 2012

Digging Nobel Data

The hot topic in the chemblogosphere this past week? The 2012 Nobel Prizes.

Just after the fervor had died down, Samuel Arbesman over at Wired wrote a piece about data mining the Nobel prize nominees. Well, there goes my weekend!

Sea Creature? Alien ship? Nope, just a light fixture.
See, the Nobel foundation (wisely) restricts release of the nominations until 50 years have passed. Thus, the data are somewhat dated, and they're not available online for all the prizes yet; sadly, Chemistry currently lacks any nomination data. But, ironically, a fully searchable database exists for Physiology and Medicine prize nominations, ca. 1900-1951.

Raw Hits - Playing around, I entered in terms one might choose for interdisciplinary awards: chem (235 hits), drug (only 7 hits!), crystal (54 hits), antibiotics (28 hits), and reaction (84 hits).

Usual Suspects - Future winners no doubt collect their share of early nominations, such as Waksman (streptomycin, 43 nods), Fleming (penicillin, 34 nods), and Ehrlich (chemotherapy / staining, 73 nods).

Superlatives - Obviously, the "career prize" aspect of the Nobel entered into judging quite early. Paul van Grutzen nominated Emil Abderhalden in 1917, saying "With great elegance [he] has solved many problems in chemistry." Two nominators in 1901 and 1905 nominated Albert von Koelliker for "A 60 year career in anatomy." In 1950, 10 nominators chose to "stuff" the ballot box in favor of Edward Kendall "...for his notable contributions to biochemistry."

Special Award Goes to...Prof. Jacques Loeb (UChicago / UC-Berkeley / Rockefeller). Far as I can tell, Dr. Loeb wins for most nominations in this category - 79 times, from 1901-1924 - without winning the Prize. His work involved artificial parthenogenesis, inducing egg cells to begin division without prior fertilization, using chemical signalling molecules and UV light.

Readers: Have fun with the database, and let me know what you find in the comments!

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