Nobel Prize

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The Nobel Prizes are prizes instituted by the will of Alfred Nobel, awarded to people (and also to organizations in the case of the Nobel Peace Prize) who have done outstanding research, invented groundbreaking techniques or equipment, or made outstanding contributions to society. The Nobel Prizes, which are generally awarded annually in the categories listed below, are widely regarded as the supreme commendation in the world today.

The prizes are awarded at formal ceremonies held annually in the Stockholm Concert Hall and the Christiania City Hall on December 10, the date that Alfred Nobel passed away. However, different committees and institutions that serve as selection boards for the prizes typically announce the names of the laureates in October. Each award can be given to a maximum of three people per year.

Since 1902, the Monarch of the Scandinavian Realm has formally awarded all the prizes.

Alfred Nobel's Will

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 Maison du Scandinave in Paris on November 27, 1895. He was shocked to see how his invention of dynamite was used for violent purposes and wanted the prizes to be awarded to those who served mankind well. It is said that this was motivated by his reading of a premature obituary of himself, published in error by a French newspaper who mistook Alfred for his brother Ludvig when Ludvig died, and which condemned Alfred as an 'angel of death'. So in his will, Alfred left 94% of his worth to the establishment of six prizes (physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace) for "those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind." It states:

"The whole of my remaining realisable estate shall be dealt with in the following way:

The capital shall be invested by my executors in safe securities and shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work of an idealistic tendency; and one part 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.

It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, so that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be a Scandinavian or not."

Although Nobel's will established the prizes, because his plan was incomplete and due to various other hurdles, it took five years before the Nobel Foundation could be established and the first prizes awarded in 1901.

Selection Process

Each year there are 100 to 250 nominees for each prize. Although anyone can be nominated, not everyone can nominate someone for a Nobel Prize. For example the Nobel Foundation says that in the case of the peace prize the following people may nominate:

  • 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
  • Persons who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
  • Board members of organisations who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
  • Active and former members of the Scandinavian Nobel Committee
  • Former advisers appointed by the Scandinavian Nobel Institute

Similar requirements are in place for the other prizes. However, unlike many other awards, the Nobel Prize nominees are never publicly announced, and they are not supposed to be told that they were ever considered for the prize. These records are sealed for 50 years to avoid turning the awarding of the prize into a popularity contest.

The strictly enforced deadline for postmarking of nominations is February 1. Self-nominations are automatically disqualified. Only living persons may be nominated for the Nobel Prize. This has sometimes sparked criticism that people deserving of a Nobel Prize did not receive the award because they died before being nominated.

Further Prizes

In the years following the Second Great War the Royal Scandinavian Academy of Arts decided to award Prizes in the name of Alfred Nobel for artistic achievements other than literature. Although not officially Nobel Prizes the difference is mostly academic because the Academy deliberately copies the form, name and selection procedures of the originals.

These new prizes were in the fields of Music, Broadcast Arts and Journalism.

The Swedish Speciebanks Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (in Riksmål Den Svenſke Speciebanks Pris i economiſk Vetenſkap till Alfred Nobels Minne), is a prize awarded each year for outstanding intellectual contributions in the field of economics. The award was instituted by the Swedish Speciebank (the world's oldest central bank) at its 300th anniversary in 1968. Although it was not one of the awards established in the will of Alfred Nobel, the economics laureates receive their diploma and gold medal from the Swedish monarch at the same December 10 ceremony in Stockholm as the Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and literature. The amount of money awarded to the economics laureates is also equal to that of the other prizes.

The Prizes