Nowadays, there are thousands of chemist researchers worldwide (university, private industries,...) publishing thousands of papers, communications, reviews, patents,... every year. One could think chemical research is very productive.
But it seems to me that chemists in the early 20th century were more productive than today. There were much less researchers with less money. And yet, they made huge contributions to the field.
I think many researchers nowadays focus on proving what they already know:
They've made a new compound once. And from there, they study it over and over and over again, modifying some parts of it to get new results and make new publications. But ultimately, what is really new and unexpected from all that, once past the original discovery?
Why would they do that? Because it's the way research works now:
* To get fundings, you need to prove that what you're proposing has good chances to work and will give results. So the easiest way to go is to propose research ideas that are in relation with what you've done before. Innovative ideas are harder to fund.
* In order to further your career as a researcher, you need to publish a lot. The best way is to keep working on the same thing, so you know the chemical system works and will give you some results to publish. Innovative ideas mean larger risk of failure, larger risk of not publishing.
I believe there is still a lot to discover in chemistry, the field is not dead. But the thing is: are we willing to take the risk
to go forward?
Bio-themed awards in the 21st century: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2012.
Most chemistry Nobel prizes of the 21st century have been made in the biomedical field because they are the one moving forward. I guess it's going to continue.