Dark matter and nanotech may vie for Nobel prizes

LONDON Wed Oct 1, 2008 3:32pm EDT

This undated image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a ghostly ring of dark matter in a galaxy cluster designated Cl 0024+17. REUTERS/NASA, ESA, M.J. Jee and H. Ford/Johns Hopkins University/Handout

This undated image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a ghostly ring of dark matter in a galaxy cluster designated Cl 0024+17.

Credit: Reuters/NASA, ESA, M.J. Jee and H. Ford/Johns Hopkins University/Handout

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LONDON (Reuters) - A scientist who helped prove the existence of dark matter and a researcher who used the power of jellyfish to glow green in experiments may win Nobel prizes, Thomson Reuters said on Wednesday.

The analysis makes use of the way scientists credit one another for their work to find out who has done the most influential basic research in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine and economics.

Using these credits, called citations, the Scientific division of Thomson Reuters Corp tipped 21 potential winners for the prestigious prizes.

The more citations, the more useful a discovery is to other researchers, said David Pendlebury of Research Services at Thomson Reuters, who led the survey.

"You get a very strong signal of what the scientific community itself feels is an important work," Pendlebury said.

Since 2002, Pendlebury's analyses have picked 12 Nobel winners.

Successful predictions included last year's winners for medicine Mario Capecchi, Martin Evans and Oliver Smithies as well as Albert Fert and Peter Gruenberg for physics. All were forecast to be winners by Pendlebury in 2006.

"After identifying the highly cited authors we look at their areas of research to see if they were the pioneers to verify that our citations counts are good signals," Pendlebury told reporters on a telephone briefing.

SECRECY OVER DELIBERATIONS

Secrecy shrouds the Nobel committee's deliberations over the yearly prizes and the winners themselves usually do not even know until shortly before the announcement.

The first Nobel announcements this year are due on October 6. Dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel established the prizes, first handed out in 1901, in his will.

For chemistry, Pendlebury pointed to Charles Lieber of Harvard University for his work on nanowires and nanomaterials, and Roger Tsien at the University of California San Diego, La Jolla, who figured out how to use the same chemical that makes jellyfish glow green to track biological reactions in the lab.

In physics, the predicted winners included Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov from the University of Manchester for their work on graphene, the thinnest material ever discovered, and Vera Rubin at the Carnegie Institution in Washington helping prove the existence of mysterious dark matter.

For economics, the analysis points to Lars Hansen of the University of Chicago, Thomas Sargent at New York University and Princeton University's Christopher Sims for helping translate arcane economic theory to real-world markets in predicting risky securities, for instance -- a field called econometrics.

(Reporting by Michael Kahn; editing by Maggie Fox)

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