Top 10 Research Highlights of 2008

So, with 2008 drawing to a close, we thought we’d select our favourites from the chemistry we’ve covered this year. The five of us editors had two picks each, so here’s our top 10 (in no particular order):


Ion transport: Testing the water

Eigen complexes, Zundel complexes, Grotthuss mechanism: there’s some great terminology related to water structure but we still don’t fully understand it! This paper was a good example of how fancy spectroscopic techniques can be used to understand just what is going on with the seriously speedy diffusion of hydroxide ions in water.

Catalytic hydrogenation: Guided by theory

The importance of heterogeneous catalysis to the chemical industry really can’t be overstated, so one of my favourites this year was this theoretical paper by Jens Nørskov and friends. They use computational methods to seek out the best (and economically viable) alternatives to expensive industry-standard hydrogenation catalysts. Watch out for a review in this area next year!


Nobel Prize 2008: Green fluorescent protein

Over the past few years GFP has been a favourite pick in the numerous ‘what will win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year’ lists. And now it has — and deservingly so. The question is, what will be the consensus pick for the next few years?

Coordination polymers: Ringing the changes

A research highlight that combines two of my favourite things — beer and football…no wait, I mean coordination polymers and Borromean rings.


Organocatalysis: Making light work of it

Most organocatalytic reactions involve typical polar reactions between one nucleophilic and one electrophilic partner. Not only is this approach radical, solving a long-standing problem in asymmetric synthesis, it was also the easiest headline I wrote all year.

Enzyme catalysis: Enantioselectivity evolved

Everyone knows that enzymes are good catalysts, but the search for the right enzyme can be a long one. I love the idea of training an enzyme to do what you want – and biasing evolution by using a clever reaction design is probably the ultimate way of achieving this.


Chirality: Handed over

Chirality can be a somewhat tricky property to introduce in materials. Here, the chirality of organic linkers is preserved and passed on to the bulk of an organosilicate material directly during the synthesis — a very elegant chirality transfer.

Molecular network: Random order

Check out these molecules that, when adsorbed onto a surface, form hexagonal ‘holes’ in a regular array regardless of how they arrange themselves. This leads to an ordered — yet aperiodic — molecular network.


Protein chemistry: Handy crystallization

The combination of painstaking chemical synthesis of both forms of the protein, followed by the conceptual leap to crystallise both of them in order to get the X-ray structure, made these two papers extremely impressive. And when you add the cool application – antifreeze proteins to help preserve donated organs — it adds up to work that made me say ‘I wish we’d published it!’

Superconductivity: The good samarium

It’s solid state inorganic chemistry, it’s superconductivity — I love it. This is just a sample of the ‘gold rush’ of work that was triggered by the pnictide superconductors.

And slightly less seriously, here are our top 10 Research Highlight headlines of the year:

Come on silene

The magnificent seven

Cage closed

The good samarium

Heterogeneous chemistry on Mars

All features great and small

Knot your usual molecules

Supersize sandwich

The 39 steps

Caught in a trap

And many thanks to Jane for copy-editing and Dipti for publishing everything for us all year!


Neil Withers (Associate Editor, Nature Chemistry)