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Scientists use Crystal Ball to predict Nobel Chemistry prize

Event at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen got everyone guessing who will be the winner

They had gathered to predict a winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Five professors in the field each nominated a candidate and made a short presentation about why their chosen nominee was the deserving winner of the prestigious award. The official winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be announced on 7 October in Stockholm, Sweden. And the goal of the annual ‘University of Copenhagen Nobel Crystal Ball’ is to promote science to students and create awareness about the prize itself.

It might seem surprising that an award as prestigious as the Nobel Prize in Chemistry needs an event to promote awareness about it. So Professor Mikael Bols, the head of the Department of Chemistry, summed up the reasoning: “Every year the prize is awarded to someone you have never heard of. The goal of this event is to remedy that fact,” he said.

Let the Games begin!

Professor Thorsten Hansen was the first to predict a winner for this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Professor Hansen confidently named Michael Grätzel for his work on dye-sensitized solar cells. Stating that it could lead to a step in the right direction for combating climate change.

Panel member: “This is all fascinating, but normally we only give out Nobel Prizes to scientists who can prove that what they are saying is correct…”

In similar fashion, one professor after another stood up in front of the audience and argued their case for their predicted winner for the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In the relaxed, yet rigorously academic, atmosphere, witty banter followed as the professors’ choices were critically and teasingly cross-examined by a panel of their peers.

The audience as Nobel Committee (Photo by Roderick Mackay)

After Professor Michael Pittelkow finished his presentation, a panel member teasingly stated: “This is all fascinating, but normally we only give out Nobel Prizes to scientists who can prove that what they are saying is correct. We don’t even know yet if this is correct.”

And the winner is…

Presentations completed, and the professors and audience members voted for whom they believed made the most convincing case.

The ‘winner’, in terms of convincing the audience, was nominated by Professor Morten Meldal: He opted for Peter G. Shultz who received 46 out of 149 votes. Peter G. Schultz was predicted to win based on his work on expanding the genetic code and coding unnatural amino acids. The other predicted winners were Bruce Lipshutz, the pair of Russell J. Hemley and Mikhail Eremets, and John D. Sutherland.

The actual winner will be announced next week, but perhaps the real winners at this event were the audience in attendance, especially a large and enthusiastic number of elite Danish high school students from a talented youth program.

As student Clara Winding from Rungsted Gymnasium put it: “This is a great way to get young people interested in the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. To get them to understand what it is and who can get it. Being a high school student you might not understand all of the science that is presented and the technical terms that are used, but the event gives insight into the prize and the atmosphere surrounding it.”

If the Nobel Prize was a popularity contest… (Photo by Roderick Mackay)

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