The Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded for discovering that you needn’t have living cells to produce fermentation in 1907 by the notable E. Buchner (who did not, as it turns out, invent the funnel of a similar name). What were these chemicals? Hard to say. I hear Buchner’s NMR wasn’t working at the time so he could only guess, but they were certainly the extracts of whole cells. (The chemistry Nobel in 1929 would go to the guys who figured out exactly what those chemicals were.. sort of).
Chemists at the time, I’m sure, tossed their bowler hats on the floor and went straight to fisticuffs over the slight.
In 1915, it was awarded for research on chlorophyll – not the synthesis, mind you, just for figuring out that it was there (you’d have to wait until the Nobel in 1930 for the chemistry, again).
In 1946, it was awarded just for crystallizing (and purifying) bioshit. In 1946 this was a major step… which reminds us how infantile biochemistry was in 1946, considering the first Nobel, 25 years earlier, was awarded for the analysis of chemical dynamics to van’t Hoff… “real” chemistry, it seems, had been… err… established quite a bit more than the ability to purify compounds by 1946. Chemists would get their Nobel for chromatography a few years later….[shame on us])
In 1947 the prize was given to Robert Robinson for discovering there were chemicals in plants and characterizing a few of them.
1957 – Neucleotides and co-enzymes
1958 – The structure of insulin
1961 – Assimilation of carbon dioxide in plants
1962 – Globular proteins
1964 – X-ray techniques for the determination of biological compounds
1972 – Ribonuclease…
This is getting to a point – the Nobel in chemistry isn’t reserved for proper chemists who work with small synthetic molecules, it’s reserved for people who advance the understanding of chemistry and that makes no distinction between the chemistry done in the flask or chemistry done between a bilayer. The prize is handed out annually to anyone who produces outstanding work that explains, on a molecular basis, the fundamental actions that occur to transform one substance into another substance, heat or energy. Consider (if it paints a more obvious picture) that it may have been awarded to the smallest chemist yet and thanks to Yonath, Steitz and Ramakrishnan, we know how that chemist does the chemistry it does.
The structural characterization of the ribosome, an organelle composed of many molecules, may well have fit the glove of the medical prize, but it certainly wasn’t shoehorned (at least when you take history into account) into the chemistry prize. It was a significant and substantial advancement in the understanding of the chemicals (in this case, large hard-to-crystallize polymers) that compose an organelle.
So, yeah, stomp your feet. Whatever. The Nobel, like the Oscar, is an award that is best at glorifying itself, not to highlight the obscure but fascinating fact that you can make retardedly huge branched polymers both convergently or divergently or stick an alkyne to an aromatic halide. It’s more pomp and circumstance than substance and is probably overrated and biased. Whatever its defects, it still manages to end up in the hands of people who do good science.
And Biologists study how fish fuck and birds migrate – proteins are squiggly cartoons to them - it’s biofuckingchemistry.