Nobel Prize

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The Nobel Prizes are prizes awarded annually to people (and, in the case of the Peace Prize, sometimes to organizations) who have completed outstanding research, invented ground-breaking techniques or equipment, or made an outstanding contribution to society in physics, chemistry, literature, peace, medicine or physiology and economics.[1] They are widely regarded as the supreme commendation in their respective subject areas. Those honored with a Prize are known as Nobel Laureates.

The Prizes were instituted by the Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel through his will. They were first awarded in 1901, five years after Nobel's death. The prize in economics, instituted by the Bank of Sweden, has been awarded since 1969.

As of October 2006, a total of 781 Nobel Prizes have been awarded, 763 to individuals and 18 to organizations. A few Prize winners have declined the award. There are years in which one or more Prizes are not awarded; during World War II, for instance, no Prizes were awarded in any category between 1940 and 1942. Each Prize stipulates, however, that it must be awarded at least once every five years.

Prizes cannot be revoked. Since 1974, no award may be made posthumously, i.e. nominees must be alive at the time of their nomination.

Prize categories

Medal Category Characteristics
Original design ®© The Nobel Foundation. Nobel Prize in Physics Awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to "the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics".
Original design ®© The Nobel Foundation. Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to "the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement".
Original design ®© The Nobel Foundation. Nobel Prize in
Physiology or Medicine
Awarded by the Karolinska Institutet to "the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine".
Original design ®© The Nobel Foundation. Nobel Prize in Literature Awarded by the Swedish Academy to "the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work of an idealistic tendency".
Original design ®© The Nobel Foundation. Nobel Prize in Peace Awarded by the Norwegian Nobel Committee to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".
Original design ®© The Nobel Foundation. Nobel Prize in Economics Officially called The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, this prize was not willed by Alfred Nobel, but instituted by the central bank of Sweden. It is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in accordance with the same principles as those for the other five Nobel Prizes.

Award ceremonies

File:Stockholm Konserthuset 2002.jpg
Stockholm Concert Hall, venue for the annual Nobel Prize award ceremonies.

The committees and institutions that serve as selection boards for the Prizes typically announce the names of the laureates in October. The Prizes are then awarded at formal ceremonies held annually on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death.

The Peace Prize ceremony has been held at the Norwegian Nobel Institute (1905-1946); the Aula of the University of Oslo (1947-1990); and most recently at the Oslo City Hall. As of 2005, the other Prize ceremonies have been held at the Stockholm Concert Hall.

Each award can be given to a maximum of three recipients per year. They each consist of a gold medal; a diploma; the extension of Swedish citizenship; and a sum of money. Currently the latter is about ten million Swedish Kronor (slightly more than one million Euros or about 1.4 million US dollars). Originally this money was meant to fund laureates' further work, although nowadays many laureates are retired at the time their award is made.

If there are two winners in one category, the award money is split equally between them. If there are three winners, the awarding committee has the option of splitting the prize money equally among all three, or awarding half of the prize money to one recipient and one-quarter to each of the other two. It is common for the recipients to donate the prize money to benefit scientific, cultural or humanitarian causes.

Since 1902, the King of Sweden has, with the exception of the Peace Prize, presented all the prizes in Stockholm. At first King Oscar II did not approve of awarding grand prizes to foreigners, but is said to have changed his mind once his attention had been drawn to the publicity value of the prizes for Sweden.

Until the Norwegian Nobel Committee was established in 1904, the President of Norwegian Parliament made the formal presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize. The Committee's five members are entrusted with researching and adjudicating the Prize as well as awarding it. Although appointed by the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget), they are independent and answer to no legislative authority. Members of the Norwegian government are not permitted to sit on the Committee.

Alfred Nobel's will

Alfred Nobel.

The Prizes were instituted by the final will of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist, industrialist, and the inventor of dynamite. Alfred Nobel wrote several wills during his lifetime. The last one was written on November 27, 1895—a little over a year before he died. He signed it at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris on November 27, 1895. Nobel's work had directly involved the creation of explosives, and he became increasingly uneasy with the military usage of his inventions. It is said that this was motivated in part by his reading of a premature obituary of himself, published in error by a French newspaper on the occasion of the death of Nobel's brother Ludvig, and which condemned Alfred as a "merchant of death." So in his will, Alfred left 94% of his worth (31 miljoner kronor or 4,223,500.00 USD) to the establishment of five prizes: Template:Quotation Although Nobel's will established the prizes, his plan was incomplete and, due to various other hurdles, it was five years before the Nobel Foundation could be established and the first prizes awarded on December 10, 1901.[2]

Process of nomination and selection

As compared with some other prizes, the Prize nomination and selection process is long and rigorous. This is an important reason why the Prizes have grown in importance and prestige over the years to become the most important prizes in their field.

Forms, which amount to a personal and exclusive invitation, are sent to about three thousand selected individuals to invite them to submit nominations. In the case of the Peace Prize, for example, any of the following people may be asked to make nominations:

  • Members of national assemblies and governments of states;
  • Members of international courts;
  • University rectors;
  • Professors of social sciences, history, philosophy, law and theology;
  • Directors of peace research institutes and foreign policy institutes;
  • Peace Prize laureates and/or board members of organisations that have been awarded the Peace Prize;
  • Active and former members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee;
  • Former advisers appointed by the Norwegian Nobel Institute.

Similar requirements are in place for the other Prizes.

The submission deadline for nominations, which is strictly enforced, is January 31 of the year in which the award is to be made.[3] Self-nominations are automatically disqualified and, as mentioned above, only living persons are eligible.

Unlike many other awards, the names of those nominated for a Nobel Prize are never publicly announced and they are never meant to learn that they were considered for the Prize. Nomination records are sealed for fifty years.

After the nomination deadline, a committee screens and filters the nominations to produce a list of around two hundred preliminary candidates. This list is then sent to selected experts in each nominee's field of work, from whose responses a shortlist of around fifteen is made. The committee then writes a report with recommendations and sends it to the relevant institution. As an example of these institution's sizes, the Assembly for the Prize for Medicine has fifty members. The members of the institution meet and select a winner or winners by vote.

The process varies slightly between the different disciplines. For instance, the Literature Prize is rarely awarded to more than one person per year, whereas other Prizes now often involve two or three collaborators.

Posthumous nominations for Prizes are not allowed. This policy has sometimes sparked criticism that people deserving of a Nobel Prize did not receive the award because they died before being nominated. In two cases the Prize was awarded posthumously to people who died in the months between their nomination and selection as a winner: UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld (1961, Peace) and Erik Axel Karlfeldt (1931, Literature). Since 1974, laureates must be alive at the time of the announcement of the award in October. There has been one laureate - William Vickrey (1996, Economics) - who died after the prize was announced but before it could be presented to him. In 1948 Mahatma Gandhi would have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but he died several days after the award was announced.

Lag in the timing of Nobel Prize recognition for achievements

The interval between the accomplishment of the achievement being recognized and the awarding of the Nobel Prize for it varies from discipline to discipline.

Prizes in Literature are typically awarded to recognize cumulative lifetime body of work rather than a single achievement. In this case the notion of "lag" does not directly apply.

Prizes in Peace are often awarded within a few years of the events they recognize. For instance, Kofi Annan was awarded the 2001 Peace Prize just 4 years after becoming a Secretary-General of the UN.

On the other hand, awards in scientific disciplines (physics and chemistry) require that the significance of achievements being recognized is "tested by time." In practice it means that the lag between the discovery and the award is typically on the order of 20 years and can be much larger (as in the case of 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics, which was awarded for a 1973 discovery). As a downside of this approach, not all scientists live long enough for their work to be recognized. Some important scientific discoveries may not be recognized at all simply because by the time their impact is seen, none of the discoverers are left alive to receive the prize.


Template:Main The Prize has been criticized over the years, with people suggesting that formal agreements and name recognition are more important than actual achievements in the process of deciding who is awarded the Prize. Perhaps the most infamous case of this was in 1973 when Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho shared the Peace Prize for bringing peace to Vietnam, even though the War in Vietnam was ongoing at the time. Le Duc Tho declined the award, for the stated reason that peace had not been achieved.

Failure of Nobel Recognition for commensurately-meritorious achievements

Mahatma Gandhi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times between 1937 and 1948 but never won it. Research indicates that it was likely the Authority would have given him the Prize in 1948, the year in which he was assassinated. The committee apparently considered a posthumous award but ultimately decided against it, instead choosing not to award the Nobel Peace Prize to anybody for that year.[4]

The strict rules against a Prize being awarded to more than three people at once is also a cause for controversy. Where a prize is awarded to recognise an achievement by a team of more than three collaborators, inevitably one or more will miss out. For example, in 2002, a Prize was awarded to Koichi Tanaka and John Fenn for the development of mass spectrometry in protein chemistry, an award that failed to recognise the achievements of Franz Hillenkamp and Michael Karas of the Institute for Physical and Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Frankfurt.[5]

Similarly, the rule against posthumous prizes often fails to recognise important achievements by a collaborator who happens to have died before the prize is awarded. Rosalind Franklin, for example, made some of the key steps toward the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953, but died of ovarian cancer in 1958, four years before Francis Crick, James D. Watson and Maurice Wilkins (one of Franklin's collaborators) were awarded the Prize for Medicine or Physiology in 1962.[6]

Criticism was levied towards the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics, specifically for the recognition of Roy Glauber and not George Sudarshan. While citation counts indicate that Glauber's 1963 papers are more widely referenced, it is clear that both made important contributions to the fields of quantum optics and coherence theory. Here again, the untimely death of two other seminal contributors, Len Mandel and Dan Walls, removed them from consideration.

Similarly, the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for "the discovery and development of conductive organic polymers" (in 1977) ignored the much earlier discovery of highly-conductive charge transfer complex polymers, the 1963 series of papers by Weiss, et al. reporting even-higher conductivity in similarly iodine-doped oxidized polypyrrole[7] and the prior report of a working organic electronic device with a high-conductivity "ON" state published in Science.[8] Template:See also

Lack of a mathematics prize

There are several possible reasons why Nobel did not create a Prize for mathematics. Nobel's will speaks of prizes for those inventions or discoveries of greatest practical benefit to mankind, possibly having in mind practical rather than theoretical works. As mathematics is not a practical science, this would explain the lack of a Mathematics prize. Correspondingly, the physics prize has been awarded more often for practical than theoretical work.[9]

Another possible reason is that there was already a well known Scandinavian prize for mathematicians. The existing mathematical awards at the time were mainly due to the work of Gösta Mittag-Leffler, who founded the Acta Mathematica, a century later still one of the world's leading mathematical journals. Through his influence in Stockholm he persuaded King Oscar II to endow prize competitions and honor distinguished mathematicians all over Europe, including Hermite, Bertrand, Weierstrass, and Poincaré.

There exists a myth that Nobel refused to endow a mathematics prize as his wife had an affair with the mathematician Mittag-Leffler; however, the myth cannot be based in fact as Nobel never married.[10]

In 2001, the Norwegian government began awarding the Abel Prize with the specific intention of it serving as a substitute for a missing Nobel Prize in Mathematics. Also, beginning in 2004, the Nobel-like Shaw Prize included an award in mathematical sciences. The Fields Medal is often described as the "Nobel Prize of mathematics", but the comparison is uneven as it is only awarded to people no more than forty years old. A closer comparison may be made with the Crafoord Prize, which, like the Nobel Prizes, is awarded by the Swedish Royal Academy.


Marie Curie, the first double Nobel laureate in history.

In the history of the Nobel Prize, there have been only four people to have received two Nobel Prizes. These are:

Marie Curie
Physics [1903]: Discovery of Radioactivity
Chemistry [1911]: Isolation of Pure Radium
Linus Pauling
Chemistry [1954]: Hybridized Orbital Theory
Peace [1962]: Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Activism
John Bardeen
Physics [1956]: Invention of Transistor
Physics [1972]: Theory of Superconductivity
Frederick Sanger
Chemistry [1958]: Structure of the Insulin Molecule
Chemistry [1980]: Virus Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Otto Heinrich Warburg was an exceptional case. He had the distinction of being offered two Nobel Prizes: Medicine [1931]: On Respiration of cells - that he received, and, another Nobel Award in the same field in 1944: which he was prevented from accepting by the Nazi government, which had issued a decree in 1937 that prohibited Germans from accepting Nobel Prizes.[11]
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1917, 1944, and 1963. The first two prizes were specifically in recognition of the group's work during the world wars.
  • Six fathers and sons have both won Nobels; one husband, wife, and daughter have all won prizes. The only siblings to win Nobel Prizes are Jan Tinbergen (Economics, 1969) and his younger brother Niko Tinbergen (Medicine, 1973).

Other prestigious international prizes

There are several other well-known international prizes and awards in various fields of endeavor, including fields not among those awarded the Nobel Prize; most of these honors are not as prestigious as the Nobel Prize. These include the Abel Prize, the Fields Medal, the Turing Award, the Templeton Prize, and the Wolf Prize. The Templeton Prize is the largest financial annual prize award given to a single person for intellectual merit, worth 795,000 pounds sterling or 1.4 million US dollars in 2006.

Prize Subject/s Characteristics
Abel Prize Mathematics Instituted in 2002 to mark the bicentennial of Niels Henrik Abel's birth; prize of 6 million Norwegian kroner awarded annually for "outstanding scientific work in the field of mathematics".
Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award Children's literature Instituted in 2002 in honour of the Swedish children's books author Astrid Lindgren. The prize is awarded annually to an amount of five million SEK.
Fields Medal Mathematics Awarded to two, three or four mathematicians not over forty years of age at each International Congress of the International Mathematical Union.
Environmental Prize
Environmental protection The most lucrative environmental award in the world, it is given annually to grassroots environmental activists from six geographic areas: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America.
Holberg Prize Arts and humanities, social science, law and theology Named after Baron Ludvig Holberg, and awarded for outstanding scholarly work in the arts and humanities, social science, law and theology.
Ig Nobel Prize Physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, peace Organized by the scientific humor journal Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), it is a parody of the Nobel Prize given annually for ten achievements that "first make people laugh, and then make them think".
MacArthur Fellowship Any Given by the MacArthur Foundation each year to around twenty to forty citizens or residents of the United States, of any age and working in any field, who "show exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work".
Millennium Technology Prize Technology In contrast to the Nobel Prize, which is a science award, this is a technology award. Instituted in 2004. The prize of one million euros is awarded every second year by a fund governed by Finnish tech industry organizations.
Kyoto Prize Arts and philosophy, advanced technology, basic sciences Awarded annually since 1984 by the Inamori Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Japanese businessman Kazuo Inamori.
Right Livelihood Award Environmental protection, human rights, health, education Established in 1980 by Jakob von Uexkull, the Award is presented annually in Swedish Parliament building to honour those "working on practical and exemplary solutions to the most urgent challenges facing the world today".
Schock Prize Logic and philosophy, mathematics, visual arts, music Instituted by the will of philosopher and artist Rolf Schock. The prizes were first awarded in Stockholm, Sweden in 1993 and have been awarded every two years since. Each recipient currently receives 400,000 SEK.
Templeton Prize Religion Awarded annually by the Templeton Foundation to a living person who, in the estimation of the judges, best exemplifies "trying various ways for discoveries and breakthroughs to expand human perceptions of divinity and to help in the acceleration of divine creativity," ...including research in love, creativity, purpose, infinity, intelligence, thanksgiving and prayer..
Turing Award Computer science Given to an individual selected for contributions of a technical nature made to the computing community.
Wolf Prize Agriculture, arts, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, physics Awarded annually since 1978 to living scientists and artists for "achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among peoples... irrespective of nationality, race, colour, religion, sex or political views".
  1. ^ Not one of the five original Nobel Prizes; see Nobel Memorial Prize.
  2. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>The History Channel, This Day in History. "First Nobel Prizes: December 10, 1901". Retrieved July 30. Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help); Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  3. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Nobel Foundation. "Nomination and Selection Process". Retrieved July 30. Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help); Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  4. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Nobel Foundation. "Mahatma Gandhi, the Missing Laureate". Retrieved October 7. Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help); Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  5. ^ Laura Spinney, "News Analysis: Nobel Prize Controversy," The Scientist 3.1 (11 Dec. 2002): 20021211-03. Retrieved on October 28, 2006.
  6. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Nobel Foundation. "The Discovery of the Molecular Structure of DNA - The Double Helix". Retrieved July 30. Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help); Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  7. ^ See "Electronic Conduction in Polymers--Historic Papers."
  8. ^ J. McGinness, P. Corry, and P. Proctor, "Amorphous semiconductor switching in melanins," Science 183.127 (1 Mar. 1974): 853-5. Links PMID: 4359339 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]. Retrieved on October 28, 2006.
  9. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>The Nobel Prize Internet Archive. ""Why Is There No Nobel Prize in Mathematics?"". Retrieved July 30. Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help); Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  10. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Public Broadcasting Service. "The Prize: Controversy and Landmarks". ["Retired Site."] KQED. 2001. Archived copy of site, Internet Archive: The Wayback Machine. Retrieved on October 28, 2006.
  11. ^ "Otto Warburg," Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved on October 28, 2006.