Nobel Prize

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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 forContributions that have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind in the areas of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace.
  • Sweden (all prizes except the Peace Prize)
  • Norway (Peace Prize only)
Presented by
  • Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (Physics and Chemistry)
  • Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute (Physiology or Medicine)
  • Swedish Academy (Literature)
  • Norwegian Nobel Committee (Peace)
  • Sveriges Riksbank (Economic Sciences)
Reward(s)A gold medal, a diploma, and a monetary award of 10 million SEK, approx. US$1,145,000 (2020);[1]
First awarded1901; 120 years ago (1901)
Number of laureates603 prizes to 962 laureates (as of 2020)[1]

The Nobel Prize (/ˈnbɛl/ NOH-bel; Swedish: Nobelpriset [nʊˈbɛ̂lːˌpriːsɛt]; Norwegian: Nobelprisen [nʊˈbɛ̀lːˌpriːsn̩]) is five separate prizes that, according to Alfred Nobel's will of 1895, are awarded to ”those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.”

Nobel Prizes are awarded in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace (Nobel characterized the Peace Prize as "to the person who has done the most or best to advance fellowship among nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and the establishment and promotion of peace congresses").[1] In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank (Sweden's central bank) established the Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize.[1][2][3] Nobel Prizes are widely regarded as the most prestigious awards available in their respective fields.[4][5]

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist, engineer, and industrialist most famously known for the invention of dynamite. He died in 1896. In his will, he bequeathed all of his "remaining realisable assets" to be used to establish five prizes which became known as "Nobel Prizes." Nobel Prizes were first awarded in 1901.[1]

The prize ceremonies take place annually. Each recipient (known as a "laureate") receives a gold medal, a diploma, and a monetary award. In 2020, the Nobel Prize monetary award is 10,000,000 SEK, or US$1,145,000, or €968,000, or £880,000.[6] 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.[7] Although Nobel Prizes are not awarded posthumously, if a person is awarded a prize and dies before receiving it, the prize is presented.[8]

The Nobel Prizes, beginning in 1901, and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, beginning in 1969, have been awarded 603 times to 962 people and 25 organizations.[1] Four individuals have received more than one Nobel Prize.[9]


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.[10] 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.[11]

In 1888, Nobel was astonished to read his own obituary, titled The merchant of death is dead, in a French newspaper. 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.[12] On 10 December 1896, Alfred Nobel died in his villa in San Remo, Italy, from a cerebral haemorrhage. He was 63 years old.[13]

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.[14][15] 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.[16] Nobel bequeathed 94% of his total assets, 31 million SEK (c. US$186 million, €150 million in 2008), to establish the five Nobel Prizes.[17][18] Owing to skepticism surrounding the will, it was not approved by the Storting in Norway until 26 April 1897.[19] The executors of the will, Ragnar Sohlman and Rudolf Lilljequist, formed the Nobel Foundation to take care of the fortune and to organise the awarding of prizes.[20]

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 Institute on 7 June, the Swedish Academy on 9 June, and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on 11 June.[21] 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.[16] 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 94% of his fortune to the Nobel Foundation that now forms the economic base of the Nobel Prize.[citation needed]

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.[22] 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 archive, 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".[23] 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.[24][25] 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).[26] 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).[27]

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.[27]

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.[28] 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.[29]

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.[28]

Inaugural Nobel 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.[30][31] 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".[32] The Academy received 20 nominations, eleven of them for Jacobus van 't Hoff.[33] Van 't Hoff was awarded the prize for his contributions in chemical thermodynamics.[34][35]

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.[36] 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.[37] 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.[38][39]

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.[40] They were all later able to receive the diploma and medal.[41] 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.[42]

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.[43] 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.[40]

Prize in Economic Sciences

Map of Nobel laureates by country

In 1968, Sweden's central bank Sveriges Riksbank celebrated its 300th anniversary by donating a large sum of money to the Nobel Foundation to be used to set up a prize in honour of Alfred 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".[44][45] The Board of the Nobel Foundation decided that after this addition, it would allow no further new prizes.[46]

Award process

The award process is similar for all of the Nobel Prizes, the main difference being who can make nominations for each of them.[47]

File:Announcement Nobelprize Chemistry 2009-3.ogvPlay media
The announcement of the laureates in Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2009 by Gunnar Öquist, permanent secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
File:Announcement Nobelprize Literature 2009-1.ogvPlay media
2009 Nobel Prize in Literature announcement by Peter Englund in Swedish, English, and German


Nomination forms are sent by the Nobel Committee to about 3,000 individuals, usually in September the year before the prizes are awarded. These individuals are generally prominent academics working in a relevant area. Regarding the Peace Prize, inquiries are also sent to governments, former Peace Prize laureates, and current or former members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. The deadline for the return of the nomination forms is 31 January of the year of the award.[47][48] The Nobel Committee nominates about 300 potential laureates from these forms and additional names.[49] The nominees are not publicly named, nor are they told that they are being considered for the prize. All nomination records for a prize are sealed for 50 years from the awarding of the prize.[50][51]


The Nobel Committee then prepares a report reflecting the advice of experts in the relevant fields. This, along with the list of preliminary candidates, is submitted to the prize-awarding institutions.[52] The institutions meet to choose the laureate or laureates in each field by a majority vote. Their decision, which cannot be appealed, is announced immediately after the vote.[53] A maximum of three laureates and two different works may be selected per award. Except for the Peace Prize, which can be awarded to institutions, the awards can only be given to individuals.[54]

Posthumous nominations

Although posthumous nominations are not presently permitted, individuals who died in the months between their nomination and the decision of the prize committee were originally eligible to receive the prize. This has occurred twice: the 1931 Literature Prize awarded to Erik Axel Karlfeldt, and the 1961 Peace Prize awarded to UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld. Since 1974, laureates must be thought alive at the time of the October announcement. There has been one laureate, William Vickrey, who in 1996 died after the prize (in Economics) was announced but before it could be presented.[55] On 3 October 2011, the laureates for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine were announced; however, the committee was not aware that one of the laureates, Ralph M. Steinman, had died three days earlier. The committee was debating about Steinman's prize, since the rule is that the prize is not awarded posthumously.[8] The committee later decided that as the decision to award Steinman the prize "was made in good faith", it would remain unchanged.[56]

Recognition time lag

Nobel's will provided for prizes to be awarded in recognition of discoveries made "during the preceding year". Early on, the awards usually recognised recent discoveries.[57] However, some of those early discoveries were later discredited. For example, Johannes Fibiger was awarded the 1926 Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his purported discovery of a parasite that caused cancer.[58] To avoid repeating this embarrassment, the awards increasingly recognised scientific discoveries that had withstood the test of time.[59][60][61] According to Ralf Pettersson, former chairman of the Nobel Prize Committee for Physiology or Medicine, "the criterion 'the previous year' is interpreted by the Nobel Assembly as the year when the full impact of the discovery has become evident."[60]

A room with pictures on the walls. In the middle of the room there is a wooden table with chairs around it.
The committee room of the Norwegian Nobel Committee

The interval between the award and the accomplishment it recognises varies from discipline to discipline. The Literature Prize is typically awarded to recognise a cumulative lifetime body of work rather than a single achievement.[62][63] The Peace Prize can also be awarded for a lifetime body of work. For example, 2008 laureate Martti Ahtisaari was awarded for his work to resolve international conflicts.[64][65] However, they can also be awarded for specific recent events.[66] For instance, Kofi Annan was awarded the 2001 Peace Prize just four years after becoming the Secretary-General of the United Nations.[67] Similarly Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, and Shimon Peres received the 1994 award, about a year after they successfully concluded the Oslo Accords.[68]

Awards for physics, chemistry, and medicine are typically awarded once the achievement has been widely accepted. Sometimes, this takes decades – for example, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar shared the 1983 Physics Prize for his 1930s work on stellar structure and evolution.[69][70] Not all scientists live long enough for their work to be recognised. Some discoveries can never be considered for a prize if their impact is realised after the discoverers have died.[71][72][73]

Award ceremonies

Two men standing on a stage. The man to the left is clapping his hands and looking towards the other man. The second man is smiling and showing two items to an audience not seen on the image. The items are a diploma which includes a painting and a box containing a gold medal. Behind them is a blue pillar clad in flowers.
A man in his fifties standing behind a desk with computers on it. On the desk is a sign reading "Kungl. Vetensk. Akad. Sigil".
Left: Barack Obama after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo City Hall from the hands of Norwegian Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjørn Jagland in 2009; Right: Giovanni Jona-Lasinio presenting Yoichiro Nambu's Nobel Lecture at Aula Magna, Stockholm in 2008

Except for the Peace Prize, the Nobel Prizes are presented in Stockholm, Sweden, at the annual Prize Award Ceremony on 10 December, the anniversary of Nobel's death. The recipients' lectures are normally held in the days prior to the award ceremony. The Peace Prize and its recipients' lectures are presented at the annual Prize Award Ceremony in Oslo, Norway, usually on 10 December. The award ceremonies and the associated banquets are typically major international events.[74][75] The Prizes awarded in Sweden's ceremonies' are held at the Stockholm Concert Hall, with the Nobel banquet following immediately at Stockholm City Hall. The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony has been held at the Norwegian Nobel Institute (1905–1946), at the auditorium of the University of Oslo (1947–1989), and at Oslo City Hall (1990–present).[76]

The highlight of the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony in Stockholm occurs when each Nobel laureate steps forward to receive the prize from the hands of the King of Sweden. In Oslo, the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee presents the Nobel Peace Prize in the presence of the King of Norway.[75][77] At first, King Oscar II did not approve of awarding grand prizes to foreigners. It is said[by whom?] that he changed his mind once his attention had been drawn to the publicity value of the prizes for Sweden.[78]

Nobel Banquet

A set table with a white table cloth. There are many plates and glasses plus a menu visible on the table.
Table at the 2005 Nobel Banquet in Stockholm

After the award ceremony in Sweden, a banquet is held in the Blue Hall at the Stockholm City Hall, which is attended by the Swedish Royal Family and around 1,300 guests. The Nobel Peace Prize banquet is held in Norway at the Oslo Grand Hotel after the award ceremony. Apart from the laureate, guests include the President of the Storting, on occasion the Swedish prime minister, and, since 2006, the King and Queen of Norway. In total, about 250 guests attend.

Nobel lecture

According to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation, each laureate is required to give a public lecture on a subject related to the topic of their prize.[79] The Nobel lecture as a rhetorical genre took decades to reach its current format.[80] These lectures normally occur during Nobel Week (the week leading up to the award ceremony and banquet, which begins with the laureates arriving in Stockholm and normally ends with the Nobel banquet), but this is not mandatory. The laureate is only obliged to give the lecture within six months of receiving the prize, but some have happened even later. For example, US President Theodore Roosevelt received the Peace Prize in 1906 but gave his lecture in 1910, after his term in office.[81] The lectures are organized by the same association which selected the laureates.[82]



The Nobel Foundation announced on 30 May 2012 that it had awarded the contract for the production of the five (Swedish) Nobel Prize medals to Svenska Medalj AB. Between 1902 and 2010, the Nobel Prize medals were minted by Myntverket (the Swedish Mint), Sweden's oldest company, which ceased operations in 2011 after 107 years. In 2011, the Mint of Norway, located in Kongsberg, made the medals. The Nobel Prize medals are registered trademarks of the Nobel Foundation.[83]

Each medal features an image of Alfred Nobel in left profile on the obverse. The medals for physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and literature have identical obverses, showing the image of Alfred Nobel and the years of his birth and death. Nobel's portrait also appears on the obverse of the Peace Prize medal and the medal for the Economics Prize, but with a slightly different design. For instance, the laureate's name is engraved on the rim of the Economics medal.[84] The image on the reverse of a medal varies according to the institution awarding the prize. The reverse sides of the medals for chemistry and physics share the same design.[85]

A heavily decorated paper with the name "Fritz Haber" on it.
Laureates receive a heavily decorated diploma together with a gold medal and the prize money. Here Fritz Haber's diploma is shown, which he received for the development of a method to synthesise ammonia.

All medals made before 1980 were struck in 23 carat gold. Since then, they have been struck in 18 carat green gold plated with 24 carat gold. The weight of each medal varies with the value of gold, but averages about 175 grams (0.386 lb) for each medal. The diameter is 66 millimetres (2.6 in) and the thickness varies between 5.2 millimetres (0.20 in) and 2.4 millimetres (0.094 in).[86] Because of the high value of their gold content and tendency to be on public display, Nobel medals are subject to medal theft.[87][88][89] During World War II, the medals of German scientists Max von Laue and James Franck were sent to Copenhagen for safekeeping. When Germany invaded Denmark, Hungarian chemist (and Nobel laureate himself) George de Hevesy dissolved them in aqua regia (nitro-hydrochloric acid), to prevent confiscation by Nazi Germany and to prevent legal problems for the holders. After the war, the gold was recovered from solution, and the medals re-cast.[90]


Nobel laureates receive a diploma directly from the hands of the King of Sweden, or in the case of the peace prize, the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Each diploma is uniquely designed by the prize-awarding institutions for the laureates that receive them.[84] The diploma contains a picture and text in Swedish which states the name of the laureate and normally a citation of why they received the prize. None of the Nobel Peace Prize laureates has ever had a citation on their diplomas.[91][92]

Award money

The laureates are given a sum of money when they receive their prizes, in the form of a document confirming the amount awarded.[84] The amount of prize money depends upon how much money the Nobel Foundation can award each year. The purse has increased since the 1980s, when the prize money was 880,000 SEK per prize (c. 2.6 million SEK altogether, US$350,000 today). In 2009, the monetary award was 10 million SEK (US$1.4 million).[93][94] In June 2012, it was lowered to 8 million SEK.[95] If two laureates share the prize in a category, the award grant is divided equally between the recipients. If there are three, the awarding committee has the option of dividing the grant equally, or awarding one-half to one recipient and one-quarter to each of the others.[96][97][98] It is common for recipients to donate prize money to benefit scientific, cultural, or humanitarian causes.[99][100]

Controversies and criticisms

Controversial recipients

When it was announced that Henry Kissinger was to be awarded the Peace Prize, two of the Norwegian Nobel Committee members resigned in protest.

Among other criticisms, the Nobel Committees have been accused of having a political agenda, and of omitting more deserving candidates. They have also been accused of Eurocentrism, especially for the Literature Prize.[101][102][103]

Peace Prize

Among the most criticised Nobel Peace Prizes was the one awarded to Henry Kissinger and Lê Đức Thọ. This led to the resignation of two Norwegian Nobel Committee members.[104] Kissinger and Thọ were awarded the prize for negotiating a ceasefire between North Vietnam and the United States in January 1973. However, when the award was announced, both sides were still engaging in hostilities.[105] Critics sympathetic to the North announced that Kissinger was not a peace-maker but the opposite, responsible for widening the war. Those hostile to the North and what they considered its deceptive practices during negotiations were deprived of a chance to criticise Lê Đức Thọ, as he declined the award.[50][106] The satirist and musician Tom Lehrer has remarked that "political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize."[107]

Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin received the Peace Prize in 1994 for their efforts in making peace between Israel and Palestine.[50][108] Immediately after the award was announced, one of the five Norwegian Nobel Committee members denounced Arafat as a terrorist and resigned.[109] Additional misgivings about Arafat were widely expressed in various newspapers.[110]

Another controversial Peace Prize was that awarded to Barack Obama in 2009.[111] Nominations had closed only eleven days after Obama took office as President of the United States, but the actual evaluation occurred over the next eight months.[112] Obama himself stated that he did not feel deserving of the award, or worthy of the company in which it would place him.[113][114] Past Peace Prize laureates were divided, some saying that Obama deserved the award, and others saying he had not secured the achievements to yet merit such an accolade. Obama's award, along with the previous Peace Prizes for Jimmy Carter and Al Gore, also prompted accusations of a left-wing bias.[115]

Literature Prize

The award of the 2004 Literature Prize to Elfriede Jelinek drew a protest from a member of the Swedish Academy, Knut Ahnlund. Ahnlund resigned, alleging that the selection of Jelinek had caused "irreparable damage to all progressive forces, it has also confused the general view of literature as an art". He alleged that Jelinek's works were "a mass of text shovelled together without artistic structure".[116][117] The 2009 Literature Prize to Herta Müller also generated criticism. According to The Washington Post, many US literary critics and professors were ignorant of her work.[118] This made those critics feel the prizes were too Eurocentric.[119]

Science prizes

In 1949, the neurologist António Egas Moniz received the Physiology or Medicine Prize for his development of the prefrontal leucotomy. The previous year, Dr. Walter Freeman had developed a version of the procedure which was faster and easier to carry out. Due in part to the publicity surrounding the original procedure, Freeman's procedure was prescribed without due consideration or regard for modern medical ethics. Endorsed by such influential publications as The New England Journal of Medicine, leucotomy or "lobotomy" became so popular that about 5,000 lobotomies were performed in the United States in the three years immediately following Moniz's receipt of the Prize.[120][121]

Overlooked achievements

Mahatma Gandhi, although nominated five times, was never awarded a Nobel Peace Prize

Although Mahatma Gandhi, an icon of nonviolence in the 20th century, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times, in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947, and a few days before he was assassinated on 30 January 1948, he was never awarded the prize.[122][123][124]

In 1948, the year of Gandhi's death, the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to make no award that year on the grounds that "there was no suitable living candidate".[122][125]

In 1989, this omission was publicly regretted, when the 14th Dalai Lama was awarded the Peace Prize, the chairman of the committee said that it was "in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi".[126]

Geir Lundestad, 2006 Secretary of Norwegian Nobel Committee, said,

"The greatest omission in our 106 year history is undoubtedly that Mahatma Gandhi never received the Nobel Peace Prize. Gandhi could do without the Nobel Peace Prize. Whether Nobel committee can do without Gandhi is the question."[127]

Other high-profile individuals with widely recognised contributions to peace have been overlooked. An article in Foreign Policy magazine identified seven people who "never won the prize, but should have". The list: Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Václav Havel, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Sari Nusseibeh, Corazon Aquino, and Liu Xiaobo.[124] Liu Xiaobo would go on to win the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize while imprisoned.

In 1965, UN Secretary General U Thant was informed by the Norwegian Permanent Representative to the UN that he would be awarded that year's prize and asked whether or not he would accept. He consulted staff and later replied that he would. At the same time, Chairman Gunnar Jahn of the Nobel Peace prize committee, lobbied heavily against giving U Thant the prize and the prize was at the last minute awarded to UNICEF. The rest of the committee all wanted the prize to go to U Thant, for his work in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis, ending the war in the Congo, and his ongoing work to mediate an end to the Vietnam War. The disagreement lasted three years and in 1966 and 1967 no prize was given, with Gunnar Jahn effectively vetoing an award to U Thant.[128][129]

James Joyce, one of the controversial omissions of the Literature Prize

The Literature Prize also has controversial omissions. Adam Kirsch has suggested that many notable writers have missed out on the award for political or extra-literary reasons. The heavy focus on European and Swedish authors has been a subject of criticism.[130][131] The Eurocentric nature of the award was acknowledged by Peter Englund, the 2009 Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, as a problem with the award and was attributed to the tendency for the academy to relate more to European authors.[132] This tendency towards European authors still leaves many European writers on a list of notable writers that have been overlooked for the Literature Prize, including Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, J. R. R. Tolkien, Émile Zola, Marcel Proust, Vladimir Nabokov, James Joyce, August Strindberg, Simon Vestdijk, Karel Čapek, the New World's Jorge Luis Borges, Ezra Pound, John Updike, Arthur Miller, Mark Twain, and Africa's Chinua Achebe.[133]

Candidates can receive multiple nominations the same year. Gaston Ramon received a total of 155[134] nominations in physiology or medicine from 1930 to 1953, the last year with public nomination data for that award as of 2016. He died in 1963 without being awarded. Pierre Paul Émile Roux received 115[135] nominations in physiology or medicine, and Arnold Sommerfeld received 84[136] in physics. These are the three most nominated scientists without awards in the data published as of 2016.[137]Otto Stern received 79[138] nominations in physics 1925–1943 before being awarded in 1943.[139]

The strict rule against awarding a prize to more than three people is also controversial.[140] When a prize is awarded to recognise an achievement by a team of more than three collaborators, one or more will miss out. For example, in 2002, the prize was awarded to Koichi Tanaka and John Fenn for the development of mass spectrometry in protein chemistry, an award that did not recognise the achievements of Franz Hillenkamp and Michael Karas of the Institute for Physical and Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Frankfurt.[141][142] According to one of the nominees for the prize in physics, the three person limit deprived him and two other members of his team of the honor in 2013: the team of Carl Hagen, Gerald Guralnik, and Tom Kibble published a paper in 1964 that gave answers to how the cosmos began, but did not share the 2013 Physics Prize awarded to Peter Higgs and François Englert, who had also published papers in 1964 concerning the subject. All five physicists arrived at the same conclusion, albeit from different angles. Hagen contends that an equitable solution is to either abandon the three limit restriction, or expand the time period of recognition for a given achievement to two years.[143]

Similarly, the prohibition of posthumous awards fails to recognise achievements by an individual or collaborator who dies before the prize is awarded. The Economics Prize was not awarded to Fischer Black, who died in 1995, when his co-author Myron Scholes received the honor in 1997 for their landmark work on option pricing along with Robert C. Merton, another pioneer in the development of valuation of stock options. In the announcement of the award that year, the Nobel committee prominently mentioned Black's key role.

Political subterfuge may also deny proper recognition. Lise Meitner and Fritz Strassmann, who co-discovered nuclear fission along with Otto Hahn, may have been denied a share of Hahn's 1944 Nobel Chemistry Award due to having fled Germany when the Nazis came to power.[144] The Meitner and Strassmann roles in the research was not fully recognised until years later, when they joined Hahn in receiving the 1966 Enrico Fermi Award.

Emphasis on discoveries over inventions

Alfred Nobel left his fortune to finance annual prizes to be awarded "to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind".[145] He stated that the Nobel Prizes in Physics should be given "to the person who shall have made the most important 'discovery' or 'invention' within the field of physics". Nobel did not emphasise discoveries, but they have historically been held in higher respect by the Nobel Prize Committee than inventions: 77% of the Physics Prizes have been given to discoveries, compared with only 23% to inventions. Christoph Bartneck and Matthias Rauterberg, in papers published in Nature and Technoetic Arts, have argued this emphasis on discoveries has moved the Nobel Prize away from its original intention of rewarding the greatest contribution to society.[146][147]

Gender disparity

In terms of the most prestigious awards in STEM fields, only a small proportion have been awarded to women. Out of 210 laureates in Physics, 181 in Chemistry and 216 in Medicine between 1901 and 2018, there were only three female laureates in physics, five in chemistry and 12 in medicine.[148][149][150][151] Factors proposed to contribute to the discrepancy between this and the roughly equal human sex ratio include biased nominations, fewer women than men being active in the relevant fields, Nobel Prizes typically being awarded decades after the research was done (reflecting a time when gender bias in the relevant fields was greater), a greater delay in awarding Nobel Prizes for women's achievements making longevity a more important factor for women (one cannot be nominated to the Nobel Prize posthumously), and a tendency to omit women from jointly awarded Nobel Prizes.[152][153][154][155][156][157] Despite these factors, Marie Curie is to date the only person awarded Nobel Prizes in two different sciences (Physics in 1903, Chemistry in 1911); she is one of only three people who have received two Nobel Prizes in sciences (see Multiple laureates below).


  • Youngest person to receive a Nobel Prize:

Malala Yousafzai; at the age of 17, received Nobel Peace Prize (2014).

  • Oldest person to receive a Nobel Prize:

John B. Goodenough; at the age of 97, received Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2019).

  • Only person to receive more than one unshared Nobel Prize:

Linus Pauling; received the prize twice. Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1954) and Nobel Peace Prize (1962)

  • Laureates who have received Multiple Nobel Prizes:
  1. Marie Curie; received the prize twice. Nobel Prize in Physics (1903) and Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1911).
  2. Linus Pauling; received the prize twice. Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1954) and Nobel Peace Prize (1962).
  3. John Bardeen; received the prize twice. Nobel Prize in Physics (1956, 1972).
  4. Frederick Sanger; received the prize twice. Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1958, 1980).
  5. International Committee of the Red Cross; received the prize three times. Nobel Peace Prize (1917, 1944, 1963).
  6. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; received the prize twice. Nobel Peace Prize (1954, 1981).
  • Posthumous Nobel Prizes laureates:
  1. Erik Axel Karlfeldt; received Nobel Prize in Literature (1931).
  2. Dag Hammarskjöld; received Nobel Peace Prize (1961).
  3. Ralph M. Steinman; received Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (2011).
  • Married couples to receive Nobel Prizes:[158]
  1. Marie Curie, Pierre Curie (along with Henri Becquerel). Received Nobel Prize in Physics (1903).
  2. Irène Joliot-Curie, Frédéric Joliot. Received Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1935).
  3. Gerty Cori, Carl Cori. Received Nobel Prize in Medicine (1947).
  4. May-Britt Moser, Edvard I. Moser. Received Nobel Prize in Medicine (2014)
  5. Alva Myrdal; received Nobel Peace Prize (1982), Gunnar Myrdal; received Nobel Prize in Economics Sciences (1974).
  6. Esther Duflo, Abhijit Banerjee (along with Michael Kremer). Received Nobel Prize in Economics Sciences (2019).[159]

Specially distinguished laureates

Multiple laureates

A black and white portrait of a woman in profile.
Marie Curie, one of four people who have received the Nobel Prize twice (Physics and Chemistry)

Four people have received two Nobel Prizes. Marie Curie received the Physics Prize in 1903 for her work on radioactivity and the Chemistry Prize in 1911 for the isolation of pure radium,[160] making her the only person to be awarded a Nobel Prize in two different sciences. Linus Pauling was awarded the 1954 Chemistry Prize for his research into the chemical bond and its application to the structure of complex substances. Pauling was also awarded the Peace Prize in 1962 for his activism against nuclear weapons, making him the only laureate of two unshared prizes. John Bardeen received the Physics Prize twice: in 1956 for the invention of the transistor and in 1972 for the theory of superconductivity.[161]Frederick Sanger received the prize twice in Chemistry: in 1958 for determining the structure of the insulin molecule and in 1980 for inventing a method of determining base sequences in DNA.[162][163]

Two organizations have received the Peace Prize multiple times. The International Committee of the Red Cross received it three times: in 1917 and 1944 for its work during the world wars; and in 1963 during the year of its centenary.[164][165][166] The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been awarded the Peace Prize twice for assisting refugees: in 1954 and 1981.[167]

Family laureates

The Curie family has received the most prizes, with four prizes awarded to five individual laureates. Marie Curie received the prizes in Physics (in 1903) and Chemistry (in 1911). Her husband, Pierre Curie, shared the 1903 Physics prize with her.[168] Their daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie, received the Chemistry Prize in 1935 together with her husband Frédéric Joliot-Curie. In addition, the husband of Marie Curie's second daughter, Henry Labouisse, was the director of UNICEF when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965 on that organisation's behalf.[169]

Although no family matches the Curie family's record, there have been several with two laureates. The husband-and-wife team of Gerty Cori and Carl Ferdinand Cori shared the 1947 Prize in Physiology or Medicine[170] as did the husband-and-wife team of May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser in 2014 (along with John O'Keefe).[171]J. J. Thomson was awarded the Physics Prize in 1906 for showing that electrons are particles. His son, George Paget Thomson, received the same prize in 1937 for showing that they also have the properties of waves.[172]William Henry Bragg and his son, William Lawrence Bragg, shared the Physics Prize in 1915 for inventing the X-ray crystallography.[173]Niels Bohr was awarded the Physics prize in 1922, as was his son, Aage Bohr, in 1975.[169][174]Manne Siegbahn, who received the Physics Prize in 1924, was the father of Kai Siegbahn, who received the Physics Prize in 1981.[169][175]Hans von Euler-Chelpin, who received the Chemistry Prize in 1929, was the father of Ulf von Euler, who was awarded the Physiology or Medicine Prize in 1970.[169]C. V. Raman was awarded the Physics Prize in 1930 and was the uncle of Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, who was awarded the same prize in 1983.[176][177]Arthur Kornberg received the Physiology or Medicine Prize in 1959; Kornberg's son, Roger later received the Chemistry Prize in 2006.[178]Jan Tinbergen, who was awarded the first Economics Prize in 1969, was the brother of Nikolaas Tinbergen, who received the 1973 Physiology or Medicine Prize.[169]Alva Myrdal, Peace Prize laureate in 1982, was the wife of Gunnar Myrdal who was awarded the Economics Prize in 1974.[169] Economics laureates Paul Samuelson and Kenneth Arrow were brothers-in-law. Frits Zernike, who was awarded the 1953 Physics Prize, is the great-uncle of 1999 Physics laureate Gerard 't Hooft.[179] In 2019, married couple Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo were awarded the Economics Prize.[180]

Refusals and constraints

A black and white portrait of a man in a suit and tie. Half of his face is in a shadow.
Richard Kuhn, who was forced to decline his Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Two laureates have voluntarily declined the Nobel Prize. In 1964, Jean-Paul Sartre was awarded the Literature Prize but refused, stating, "A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honourable form."[181]Lê Đức Thọ, chosen for the 1973 Peace Prize for his role in the Paris Peace Accords, declined, stating that there was no actual peace in Vietnam.[182]George Bernard Shaw attempted to decline the prize money while accepting the 1925 Literature Prize; eventually it was agreed to use it to found the Anglo-Swedish Literary Foundation.[183]

During the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler hindered Richard Kuhn, Adolf Butenandt, and Gerhard Domagk from accepting their prizes. All of them were awarded their diplomas and gold medals after World War II. In 1958, Boris Pasternak declined his prize for literature due to fear of what the Soviet Union government might do if he travelled to Stockholm to accept his prize. In return, the Swedish Academy refused his refusal, saying "this refusal, of course, in no way alters the validity of the award."[182] The Academy announced with regret that the presentation of the Literature Prize could not take place that year, holding it back until 1989 when Pasternak's son accepted the prize on his behalf.[184][185]

Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, but her children accepted the prize because she had been placed under house arrest in Burma; Suu Kyi delivered her speech two decades later, in 2012.[186]Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 while he and his wife were under house arrest in China as political prisoners, and he was unable to accept the prize in his lifetime.

Cultural impact

The International Nobel Economic Congress 2008, at the Alfred Nobel University in Dnipro, Ukraine

Being a symbol of scientific or literary achievement that is recognisable worldwide, the Nobel Prize is often depicted in fiction. This includes films like The Prize (1963), Nobel Son (2007), and The Wife (2017) about fictional Nobel laureates, as well as fictionalised accounts of stories surrounding real prizes such as Nobel Chor, a 2012 film based on the theft of Rabindranath Tagore's prize.[187][188]

The statue and memorial symbol Planet of Alfred Nobel was opened in Alfred Nobel University of Economics and Law in Dnipro, Ukraine in 2008. On the globe, there are 802 Nobel laureates' reliefs made of a composite alloy obtained when disposing of military strategic missiles.[189]

Despite the symbolism of intellectual achievement, some recipients have embraced unsupported and pseudoscientific concepts, including various health benefits of vitamin C and other dietary supplements, homeopathy, HIV/AIDS denialism, and various claims about race and intelligence.[190] This is sometimes referred to as Nobel disease.

See also

  • List of Nobel laureates
    • List of female Nobel laureates
    • List of Nobel laureates by country
    • List of Nobel laureates by secondary school affiliation
    • List of Nobel laureates by university affiliation
    • List of Nobel laureates in Chemistry
    • List of Nobel laureates in Literature
    • List of Nobel Peace Prize laureates
    • List of Nobel laureates in Physics
    • List of Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine
  • Fields Medal – Mathematics award
  • Ig Nobel Prize – Annually awarded parody of the Nobel Prize
  • Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
  • List of prizes known as the Nobel of a field
  • Lists of science and technology awards
  • Nobel Conference
  • Nobel Library
  • Nobel Prize Museum – Museum about Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Prize
  • Nobel Prize effect – Observation about the adverse effects of receiving the Nobel Prize



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Further reading

  • Pais, Abraham (1983). Subtle is the Lord: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein (Third ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-520438-4. OCLC 8195995.

External links

Edited: 2021-06-19 11:06:52