John Matson is an associate editor at Scientific American focusing on space, physics and mathematics. Follow on Twitter
The 2010 Nobel Prize announcements will not begin rolling out until October 4, but the speculation about who will be lauded this year has already begun. Thomson Reuters, the information and media giant, released its annual predictions of likely honorees September 21, based on an analysis of highly cited research papers in each field.
The Thomson Reuters short list, which contains three individuals or groups per prize, has matched up only occasionally with the actual prize recipients in recent years, which may be as accurate as anyone can be in predicting the oft-surprising Nobels. (President Barack Obama’s 2009 Nobel Peace Prize comes to mind as a recent and largely unanticipated plot twist.) The new predictions cover only the prizes for physics, chemistry, economics and physiology or medicine; the Thomson Reuters methodology of tracking journal citations does not apply as well to the peace or literature prizes.
Among this year’s crop of predictions are a few researchers who produced high-profile breakthroughs in recent years, including representatives of the two groups that showed in the late 1990s that the universe is accelerating in its expansion, apparently under the sway of some unresolved "dark energy," and a leader of one of the teams that in 2007 showed that skin cells could be reprogrammed into so-called induced pluripotent stem cells, potentially bypassing the need for controversial embryonic stem cells.
Here is the full list of the latest batch of Nobel contenders, according to Thomson Reuters:
Chemistry: Patrick O. Brown of Stanford University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for "the invention and application of DNA microarrays"; Susumu Kitagawa of Kyoto University and Omar M. Yaghi of the University of California, Los Angeles, for "the design and development of porous metal-organic frameworks"; and Stephen J. Lippard of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for "pioneering research in bioinorganic chemistry, including the discovery of metallointercalators to disrupt DNA replication."
Physics: Charles L. Bennett of Johns Hopkins University and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and Lyman A. Page and David N. Spergel of Princeton University, for "discoveries deriving from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP)"; Thomas W. Ebbesen of the University of Strasbourg and the Institute of Science and Supramolecular Engineering in Strasbourg, France, for "observation and explanation of the transmission of light through subwavelength holes"; and Saul Perlmutter of the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Adam G. Riess of Johns Hopkins University and the Space Telescope Science Institute, and Brian P. Schmidt of the Australian National University, for "discoveries of the accelerating rate of the expansion of the universe."
Physiology or Medicine: Douglas L. Coleman of Jackson Laboratory and Jeffrey M. Friedman of the Rockefeller University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for "the discovery of leptin, a hormone regulating appetite and metabolism"; Ernest A. McCulloch and James E. Till of the Ontario Cancer Institute, and Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, and the University of California, San Francisco, for "the discovery of stem cells and the development of induced pluripotent stem cells"; and Ralph M. Steinman of the Rockefeller University for "the discovery of dendritic cells, key regulators of immune response."
Economics: Albert Alesina of Harvard University, for "theoretical and empirical studies on the relationship between politics and macroeconomics"; Nobuhiro Kiyotaki of Princeton University and John H. Moore of the University of Edinburgh and the London School of Economics, for "formulation of the Kiyotaki–Moore model, which describes how small shocks to an economy may lead to a cycle of lower output resulting from a decline in collateral values that create a restrictive credit environment"; and Kevin M. Murphy of the University of Chicago and the Hoover Institution, for "pioneering empirical research in social economics, including wage inequality and labor demand, unemployment, addiction, and the economic return on investment in medical research among other topics."
Since 2002, when the company (then known as Thomson Corporation) began posting predictions to its Web site, it has highlighted individuals or groups that would go on to win or share in nine Nobels over the next several years, out of 32 prizes awarded in physics, chemistry, economics and physiology or medicine.
Most recently, in 2009, the Thomson Reuters list flagged the group that would receive that year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine among its three likely picks for the award. Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak shared the prize for their work on telomeres, which protect chromosomes.
Photoograph of Alfred Nobel: Wikimedia Commons