Nobel Prize

Nobel Prize
A golden medallion with an embossed image of Alfred Nobel facing left in profile. To the left of the man is the text "ALFR•" then "NOBEL", and on the right, the text (smaller) "NAT•" then "MDCCCXXXIII" above, followed by (smaller) "OB•" then "MDCCCXCVI" below.
Awarded forOutstanding contributions for humanity in chemistry, literature, peace, physics, physiology or medicine, and economic sciences
  • Sweden (all prizes except the Peace Prize)
  • Norway (Peace Prize only)
Presented by
Reward(s)Prize money of 9 million SEK, approx. US$986,000 (2018);[1]
a medal;[2] and a diploma
First awarded1901; 117 years ago (1901)
Number of laureates590 prizes to 935 laureates (as of 2018)[1]

The Nobel Prize (l/, Swedish pronunciation: [nʊˈbɛlː]; Swedish definite form, singular: Nobelpriset; Norwegian: Nobelprisen) is a set of annual international awards bestowed in several categories by Swedish and Norwegian institutions in recognition of academic, cultural, or scientific advances.

The will of the Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel established the five Nobel prizes in 1895. The prizes in Chemistry, Literature, Peace, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine were first awarded in 1901.[1][3][4] In 1968, Sweden's central bank, Sveriges Riksbank, established the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, which, although not being a Nobel Prize,[5] has become informally known as the "Nobel Prize in Economics".[6][7][8] The prizes are widely regarded as the most prestigious awards available in the fields of chemistry, economics, literature, peace activism, physics, and physiology or medicine.[9][10][11]

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awards the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the Nobel Prize in Physics, and the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel; the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute awards the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine; the Swedish Academy grants the Nobel Prize in Literature; and the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded by the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Between 1901 and 2018, the Nobel Prizes (and the Prizes in Economic Sciences, from 1969 on) were awarded 590 times to 935 people and organizations.[1] With some receiving the Nobel Prize more than once, this makes a total of 27 organizations and 908 individuals.[1][12] The prize ceremonies take place annually in Stockholm, Sweden (with the exception of the Peace Prize ceremony, which is held in Oslo, Norway). Each recipient (known as a "laureate") receives a gold medal, a diploma, and a sum of money that has been decided by the Nobel Foundation. (As of 2017, each prize is worth 9,000,000 SEK, or about US$1,110,000, €944,000, £836,000, ৳83,055,500 or ₹73,800,000.[13]) Medals made before 1980 were struck in 23 carat gold, and later in 18 carat green gold plated with a 24 carat gold coating.

The prize is not awarded posthumously; however, if a person is awarded a prize and dies before receiving it, the prize may still be presented.[14] A prize may not be shared among more than three individuals, although the Nobel Peace Prize can be awarded to organizations of more than three people.[15]


A black and white photo of a bearded man in his fifties sitting in a chair.
Alfred Nobel had the unpleasant surprise of reading his own obituary, which was titled The merchant of death is dead, in a French newspaper.

Alfred Nobel (About this soundlisten ) was born on 21 October 1833 in Stockholm, Sweden, into a family of engineers.[16] He was a chemist, engineer, and inventor. In 1894, Nobel purchased the Bofors iron and steel mill, which he made into a major armaments manufacturer. Nobel also invented ballistite. This invention was a precursor to many smokeless military explosives, especially the British smokeless powder cordite. As a consequence of his patent claims, Nobel was eventually involved in a patent infringement lawsuit over cordite. Nobel amassed a fortune during his lifetime, with most of his wealth coming from his 355 inventions, of which dynamite is the most famous.[17]

In 1888, Nobel was astonished to read his own obituary, titled The merchant of death is dead, in a French newspaper. As it was Alfred's brother Ludvig who had died, the obituary was eight years premature. The article disconcerted Nobel and made him apprehensive about how he would be remembered. This inspired him to change his will.[18] On 10 December 1896, Alfred Nobel died in his villa in San Remo, Italy, from a cerebral haemorrhage. He was 63 years old.[19]

Nobel wrote several wills during his lifetime. He composed the last over a year before he died, signing it at the Swedish–Norwegian Club in Paris on 27 November 1895.[20][21] To widespread astonishment, Nobel's last will specified that his fortune be used to create a series of prizes for those who confer the "greatest benefit on mankind" in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace.[22] Nobel bequeathed 94% of his total assets, 31 million SEK (c. US$186 million, €150 million in 2008), to establish the five Nobel Prizes.[23][24] Because of skepticism surrounding the will, it was not until 26 April 1897 that it was approved by the Storting in Norway.[25] The executors of Nobel's will, Ragnar Sohlman and Rudolf Lilljequist, formed the Nobel Foundation to take care of Nobel's fortune and organised the award of prizes.[26]

Nobel's instructions named a Norwegian Nobel Committee to award the Peace Prize, the members of whom were appointed shortly after the will was approved in April 1897. Soon thereafter, the other prize-awarding organizations were designated. These were Karolinska Institutet on 7 June, the Swedish Academy on 9 June, and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on 11 June.[27] The Nobel Foundation reached an agreement on guidelines for how the prizes should be awarded; and, in 1900, the Nobel Foundation's newly created statutes were promulgated by King Oscar II.[22] In 1905, the personal union between Sweden and Norway was dissolved.

Nobel Foundation

Formation of Foundation

A paper with stylish handwriting on it with the title "Testament"
Alfred Nobel's will stated that 94% of his total assets should be used to establish the Nobel Prizes.

According to his will and testament read in Stockholm on 30 December 1896, a foundation established by Alfred Nobel would reward those who serve humanity. The Nobel Prize was funded by Alfred Nobel's personal fortune. According to the official sources, Alfred Nobel bequeathed from the shares 94% of his fortune to the Nobel Foundation that now forms the economic base of the Nobel Prize.[28]

The Nobel Foundation was founded as a private organization on 29 June 1900. Its function is to manage the finances and administration of the Nobel Prizes.[29] In accordance with Nobel's will, the primary task of the Foundation is to manage the fortune Nobel left. Robert and Ludvig Nobel were involved in the oil business in Azerbaijan, and according to Swedish historian E. Bargengren, who accessed the Nobel family archives, it was this "decision to allow withdrawal of Alfred's money from Baku that became the decisive factor that enabled the Nobel Prizes to be established".[30] Another important task of the Nobel Foundation is to market the prizes internationally and to oversee informal administration related to the prizes. The Foundation is not involved in the process of selecting the Nobel laureates.[31][32] In many ways, the Nobel Foundation is similar to an investment company, in that it invests Nobel's money to create a solid funding base for the prizes and the administrative activities. The Nobel Foundation is exempt from all taxes in Sweden (since 1946) and from investment taxes in the United States (since 1953).[33] Since the 1980s, the Foundation's investments have become more profitable and as of 31 December 2007, the assets controlled by the Nobel Foundation amounted to 3.628 billion Swedish kronor (c. US$560 million).[34]

According to the statutes, the Foundation consists of a board of five Swedish or Norwegian citizens, with its seat in Stockholm. The Chairman of the Board is appointed by the Swedish King in Council, with the other four members appointed by the trustees of the prize-awarding institutions. An Executive Director is chosen from among the board members, a Deputy Director is appointed by the King in Council, and two deputies are appointed by the trustees. However, since 1995, all the members of the board have been chosen by the trustees, and the Executive Director and the Deputy Director appointed by the board itself. As well as the board, the Nobel Foundation is made up of the prize-awarding institutions (the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute, the Swedish Academy, and the Norwegian Nobel Committee), the trustees of these institutions, and auditors.[34]

Foundation capital and cost

The capital of the Nobel Foundation today is invested 50 % in shares, 20 % bonds and 30 % other investments (e.g. hedge funds or real estate). The distribution can vary by 10 percent.[35] At the beginning of 2008, 64 % of the funds were invested mainly in American and European stocks, 20 % in bonds, plus 12% in real estate and hedge funds.[36]

In 2011, the total annual cost was approximately 120 million krona, with 50 million krona as the prize money. Further costs to pay institutions and persons engaged in giving the prizes were 27,4 million krona. The events during the Nobel week in Stockholm and Oslo cost 20,2 million krona. The administration, Nobel symposium, and similar items had costs of 22.4 million krona. The cost of the Economic Sciences prize of 16.5 Million krona is paid by the Sveriges Riksbank.[35]

First prizes

A black and white photo of a bearded man in his fifties sitting in a chair.
Wilhelm Röntgen received the first Physics Prize for his discovery of X-rays.

Once the Nobel Foundation and its guidelines were in place, the Nobel Committees began collecting nominations for the inaugural prizes. Subsequently, they sent a list of preliminary candidates to the prize-awarding institutions.

The Nobel Committee's Physics Prize shortlist cited Wilhelm Röntgen's discovery of X-rays and Philipp Lenard's work on cathode rays. The Academy of Sciences selected Röntgen for the prize.[37][38] In the last decades of the 19th century, many chemists had made significant contributions. Thus, with the Chemistry Prize, the Academy "was chiefly faced with merely deciding the order in which these scientists should be awarded the prize".[39] The Academy received 20 nominations, eleven of them for Jacobus van 't Hoff.[40] Van 't Hoff was awarded the prize for his contributions in chemical thermodynamics.[41][42]

The Swedish Academy chose the poet Sully Prudhomme for the first Nobel Prize in Literature. A group including 42 Swedish writers, artists, and literary critics protested against this decision, having expected Leo Tolstoy to be awarded.[43] Some, including Burton Feldman, have criticised this prize because they consider Prudhomme a mediocre poet. Feldman's explanation is that most of the Academy members preferred Victorian literature and thus selected a Victorian poet.[44] The first Physiology or Medicine Prize went to the German physiologist and microbiologist Emil von Behring. During the 1890s, von Behring developed an antitoxin to treat diphtheria, which until then was causing thousands of deaths each year.[45][46]

The first Nobel Peace Prize went to the Swiss Jean Henri Dunant for his role in founding the International Red Cross Movement and initiating the Geneva Convention, and jointly given to French pacifist Frédéric Passy, founder of the Peace League and active with Dunant in the Alliance for Order and Civilization.

Second World War

In 1938 and 1939, Adolf Hitler's Third Reich forbade three laureates from Germany (Richard Kuhn, Adolf Friedrich Johann Butenandt, and Gerhard Domagk) from accepting their prizes.[47] Each man was later able to receive the diploma and medal.[48] Even though Sweden was officially neutral during the Second World War, the prizes were awarded irregularly. In 1939, the Peace Prize was not awarded. No prize was awarded in any category from 1940 to 1942, due to the occupation of Norway by Germany. In the subsequent year, all prizes were awarded except those for literature and peace.[49]

During the occupation of Norway, three members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee fled into exile. The remaining members escaped persecution from the Germans when the Nobel Foundation stated that the Committee building in Oslo was Swedish property. Thus it was a safe haven from the German military, which was not at war with Sweden.[50] These members kept the work of the Committee going, but did not award any prizes. In 1944, the Nobel Foundation, together with the three members in exile, made sure that nominations were submitted for the Peace Prize and that the prize could be awarded once again.[47]

Prize in Economic Sciences

Map of Nobel laureates by country

In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank (Sweden's central bank) celebrated its 300th anniversary by donating a large sum of money to the Nobel Foundation to be used to set up a prize in honor of Nobel. The following year, the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel was awarded for the first time. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences became responsible for selecting laureates. The first laureates for the Economics Prize were Jan Tinbergen and Ragnar Frisch "for having developed and applied dynamic models for the analysis of economic processes".[51][52] The Board of the Nobel Foundation decided that after this addition, it would allow no further new prizes.[53]

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