C&EN Onion European Chemical Sciences Correspondent Fluorogrol Reports
A spokesman for the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences today vigorously defended the surprise award of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to previously unknown technician Mitchell Graupel, for "pioneering work in the field of dye-sensitized solar cells," dismissing suggestions that the intended recipient was Prof. Michael Grätzel (EPF Lausanne) as "cynical in the extreme."
Graupel (41), a lab technician at Australian photovoltaics giant Sunspot, described the award as "a surprise, but well-deserved," before recounting how he had berated the Nobel Committee representative who called to break the news, initially believing that "she was trying to sell me solar panels or some shit."
Accusations of a mix-up began to reverberate around social media within minutes of the announcement. Several observers commented that Googling various misspellings of Prof. Grätzel's name along with 'DSSCs' brought up Graupel's details on the Sunspot website, fuelling speculation that the award was the result of typographical error.
Stuart Cantrill, editor of the glamour magazine Nature Chemistry, was particularly upset after tipping the EPFL scientist in a Google Hangout last week. "It's a travesty," he said, "I bet the journal's entire 2015 budget on Grätzel."
Karen Richards, Vice President for Research and Development, responded on behalf of Sunspot: "We are delighted, of course. Mitchell has always been a dedicated, diligent technician, but even we hadn't realized just how ground-breaking his work is. The downside is that we've just chucked 25 grand [AUS$25,000; US$23,300] on marketing materials that don't even mention our Nobel laureate. Senseless waste."
Speaking anonymously to C&EN Onion, a Nobel Committee member reinforced the suspicion of error, describing it as "the biggest balls-up since we gave the 2002 prize to a bunch of analytical chemists."