Getting Ready for the 2021 Nobel Prizes

Beginning early Monday morning, Inside Science will cover the three most anticipated science prizes of the year.
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Flowers and leaves with text saying 2021 Nobel Prize, with Zero replaced with an image of a medal.
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Copyright American Institute of Physics

Chris Gorski, Editor

(Inside Science) -- Next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Inside Science staff will rise early in the morning to report on the winners of the 2021 Nobel Prizes in physiology or medicine, physics and chemistry. Shortly after the webcasts announcing the winners (to be hosted on nobelprize.org and YouTube), we will publish stories summarizing the science behind each prize, followed by additional stories related to the prizes throughout the week. We are compiling all of our Nobel Prize-related coverage here.

Who's going to win? Well, the Nobel committees are very secretive, but we've already posted our list of Nine Nobel Prize Predictions for 2021. That's where our staff highlights three contenders in each category -- from the mRNA technology behind the COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer to the strange, wonderful concept of metamaterials that can be used to make sound waves go backward and even make objects appear invisible. We've added a sleeper pick for the prize in medicine, too. He might be a bit more of a household name than most laureates.

When the winners are announced, we will post alerts on Twitter and Facebook, follow up with links to our news stories on insidescience.org, and share additional information about the science behind the prizes each day they are announced.

The festivities begin well before dawn if you're in the U.S. You can livestream the announcements from Sweden at nobelprize.org.

When will the prizes will be announced?

The Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine: Monday, Oct. 4, 5:30 a.m. Eastern time at the earliest.

The Nobel Prize in physics: Tuesday, Oct. 5, 5:45 a.m. Eastern time at the earliest.

The Nobel Prize in chemistry: Wednesday, Oct. 6, 5:45 a.m. Eastern time at the earliest.

In addition to recognition, the new winners, called Nobel laureates, will each be awarded a Nobel medal and prize money. This year, each award includes 10 million Swedish krona (a bit more than $1,100,000), to be split among as many as three winners. The three-person-per-prize limit often causes controversy, since much of modern science is massively collaborative. The limit could become particularly contentious if one of the committees recognizes a field of research such as quantum information, which has seen important contributions from many researchers over recent decades.

Predictions and Commentary

Inside Science writers mostly relied on our intuitions and the opinions of experts to make our predictions this year, covering the medicine, physics and chemistry prizes. But is there an objective way to identify the science that is most worthy of an award? The team at Clarivate Analytics thinks so. This year, they've again analyzed academic citations -- from thousands of academic journals -- to issue a list of three different discoveries that could be recognized with each science prize. They call the scientists behind these discoveries "citation laureates."

For physiology or medicine, they highlight research into neuroreceptors, the discovery and description of a key molecule in drug development, known as Interleukin-6, and the identification and isolation of the hantavirus. For physics, they look to quantum topological computation, research into network systems and graph models, and important discoveries in a separate quantum field called quantum chromodynamics. Finally, for chemistry, their analysis points to important insights into free-radical chemistry (which our predictions also highlight), advances in computational chemistry, and the discovery and development of what they call metal-catalyzed living radical polymerization.

For further reading that looks for other clues, such as the subdisciplines that may be due for recognition, look to this story from Chemistry World (which highlights much of the same standout research that we do, including the mRNA vaccine technology that we note in our predictions for the medicine prize). Sigma Xi, the scientific research honor society, ran a contest that closed yesterday in which people voted for their favorites (they promise to reveal the results today, Oct. 1).

For the latest on this year's prizes, we hope you'll visit Inside Science on Monday morning and throughout the week. Our coverage begins bright and early -- or maybe dark and early!

For more of Inside Science's coverage of the 2021 Nobel Prizes in physiology or medicine, physics and chemistry, please visit https://www.insidescience.org/nobel-coverage/2021.

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Chris Gorski is the Senior Editor of Inside Science. Follow him on twitter at @c_gorski.