With the advent of autumn, a time-honored tradition is ushered into the public consciousness – a chance to draft a team of top-notch talent and see how you stack up against your friends. That’s right, it’s time to assemble your fantasy team.
Your Nobel Laureates fantasy team, that is. The coming season of scientific awards will be recognizing some of the most transformative work from the last several decades, and the team at Thomson Reuters has your cheat sheet. By combing through their Web of Science database, analysts are able to spotlight work and researchers that have been cited with high frequency by other studies over the years. “As imitation is one of the most sincere forms of flattery,” notes Dasil Moftah, Thomson Reuters’ president of IP and Science, “so too are scientific literature citations one of the greatest dividends of a researcher’s intellectual investment.”
It’s scientific populism, the suggestion that citations are proportional to importance, but the method appears to be relatively robust – after all, the Thomson Reuters crew has gotten it right 35 times since 2002. This year, the data pointed to 22 researchers – all men – in the fields of physiology / medicine, physics, and chemistry. And here they are, coming to a fantasy draft board near you:
Physiology or Medicine
James Darnell, Jr (Rockefeller University); Robert G. Roeder (Rockefeller University); Robert Tjian (University of California, Berkeley)
For their work on eukaryotic transcription and gene regulation. The pathway from genetic code to physiological reality is a mysterious road with many potential digressions. In eukaryotic cells, the process is even more complicated than in single-celled prokaryotes, with an array of regulating molecules and feedback loops.
David Julius (University of California San Francisco)
For his studies of the molecular basis for pain. In a quest to determine how molecular interactions interact with nerve endings, Julius and his group have experimented extensively with hot and cold sensations, using capsaicin (the “spicy” ingredient in peppers) and menthol (the cooling component of mint), respectively.
Charles Lee (Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine); Stephen Scherer (University of Toronto); Michael Wigler (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory)
For their discoveries linking gene copy number variation with certain diseases. Genetics dogma suggests that you inherit one copy of every autosomal gene from each parent, but these researchers pieced together a befuddling puzzle to conclude that this is not always the case. In fact, wide variations in the numbers of gene copies exist at hundreds of sites throughout the human genome, leading to a cascade of effects that may be associated with diseases including breast cancer and spinal muscle atrophy.
Charles Kane (University of Pennsylvania); Laurens Molenkamp (University of Wurzburg); Shoucheng Zhang (Stanford University)
For research on the quantum spin Hall effect and topological insulators. The specialized quantum spin Hall effect is a state of matter in which two electrons’ magnetic field and spin orientations are coupled. Kane, Molenkamp, and Zhang established much of the theoretical framework for the effect, while ushering in a more applied exhibition of the phenomenon based on semiconductor physics.
James Scott (University of Cambridge); Ramamoorthy Ramesh (University of California Berkeley); Yoshinori Tokura (University of Tokyo)
For their contributions to ferroelectric memory devices and multiferroic materials. Flash memory plays a key role in many of our technological devices, but ferroelectric-based technologies may ultimately prove to be preferable for certain applications. Using an iron-based layer rather than a dielectric one, these materials require less power, and process information faster, and can withstand many more cycles of writing and erasing data.
Peidong Yang (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)
For his work on nanowire photonics. Manipulating optical energy is a critical capability for computers and communications tools; doing so with devices smaller than the wavelength of the light you’re trying to alter is a promising but extremely challenging corollary. Yang and his team have made progress with miniscule components called “nanoribbons” that can guide light despite the unwieldy scale differential.
Charles Kresge (Saudi Aramco); Ryong Ryoo (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology); Galen Stucky (University of California Santa Barbara)
For the design of functional mesoporous materials. Mesoporous objects have pores between 2 and 50 nanometers wide. These parameters are proving extremely useful in chemical and alternative energy industries for directing reactions that require even dispersion and particular surface area-to-volume ratios
Graeme Moad (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, CSIRO); Ezio Rizzardo (CSIRO); San Thang (CSIRO)
For their development of the reversible addition-fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) polymerization process. RAFT polymerization controls the otherwise rapid and chaotic process of free radical reactions, using a certain class of intermediary molecule (thiocarbonylthio compounds, if you must know) and reaction conditions in a reversible process. This approach is able to accommodate a wide range of precursor molecules – styrenes, acrylamides, acrylates – and can generate several different macro-scale architectures, making it one of the most versatile and valuable modes for industrial polymerization techniques.
Ching Tang (University of Rochester / Hong Kong University of Science and Technology); Steven Van Slyke (Kateeva)
For inventing the organic light emitting diode (OLED). OLEDs are comprised of a light-emitting organic compound layer sandwiched between two electrodes, one of which is typically transparent. These optical and electrical properties allow for many of today’s digital displays, such as computer screens and mobile phones.