Facts about Nobel Prize

The facts about Nobel Prize are both interesting and intriguing. Instituted at the behest of Swedish chemist, engineer, and industrialist Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Prize is a set of annual global awards given in several categories by Swedish and Norwegian organizations in recognition of scientific, academic, and cultural advances.

Alfred Nobel, via his last will and testament, established the prizes in 1895. The first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901. The prize is widely regarded as the most prestigious international award in their respective fields. It comprises of a medal, a diploma, and a document mentioning the prize money.


Categories of the Nobel Prize

The Nobel Prize is awarded for physics, chemistry, literature, medicine, and peace. Alfred Nobel, in his last will, specifically named the organizations that will be responsible for selecting the awardees in each category. These are the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (physics and/or chemistry), Swedish Academy for the Nobel Prize (literature), and Karolinska Institute (medicine or physiology).

A five-member committee elected by the Norwegian parliament selects the awardee for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Sveriges Riksbank, in 1968, instituted the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, from 1969, was entrusted to select the winner for economics. The Sveriges Riksbank Prize has since been universally acknowledged as the Nobel Prize in Economics.

17 Facts about Nobel Prize

With its 120 years of legacy, the Nobel Prize has had a number of interesting facts. While there are famous Nobel Prize winners who have got the award multiple times, there have been instances where the awardees were forced to reject the medallion and citation.

Here are some Nobel Prize facts that would be worthy to know.

1. Handmade Medal

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The Nobel Prize medal is handmade in 18 carat recycled gold. They are made with careful precision. The medals for chemistry, literature, medicine or physiology, and physics are identical. It is engraved with Alfred Nobel’s image and the years of his birth and death (1833-1896). His portrait also appears on the medals given for peace and economic sciences but has a slightly different design. The image of the particular institution awarding the medal is mentioned at the back.

2. Parchment Diploma

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The Nobel Prize diploma is a unique work. The design is decided by the institution awarding the prize. The literature diploma, for instance, is written on parchment which is a specially treated type of leather. It is written in the same technique used by medieval book illustrators. Diplomas for other categories are made from special handmade papers. While the artistic design of the diploma has changed over the years, its text has largely remained the same.

3. The Prize Money

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Alfred Nobel left most of his estate, then valued at over Swedish kroner (SEK) 31 million, to be invested in securities. The income from the investment, he said in his will, was to be distributed annually as the Nobel Prize. The amount for a full Nobel Prize in 2019 was SEK 9 million (approximately $1.02 million).

4. The Youngest and the Oldest

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Pakistani social activist Malala Yousafzai, at 17 (now 23), was the youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize. She shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 with India’s Kailash Satyarthi. Meanwhile, 98-year-old American scientist John B Goodenough became the oldest recipient in Nobel Prize history when he won the award for chemistry in 2019.

5. Declination

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French philosopher and novelist Jean-Paul Satre was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964. He, however, declined the price stating that he never accepted official honors. Vietnamese diplomat Le Duc Tho, who was jointly awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize with the then US secretary of state Henry Kissnger for negotiating the Vietnam peace treaty, declined to accept the award. Duc Tho cited the then situation in Vietnam for declining the award.

6. Coerced Declination

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Strange as it may sound, one of the most interesting facts about Nobel Prize is that some recipients were forced by authorities to decline the award. German Nobel Prize winners Adolf Butenandt, Richard Kuhn and Gerhard Gerhard Domagk were coerced by dictator Adolf Hitler to decline the awards. Russian novelist Boris Pasternak, who initially accepted the 1958 Nobel Prize in Literature, was ordered to return the award by the Soviet Union government.

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7. Awarded under House Arrest

Nobel Prize categories

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Three recipients were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize when they were under house arrest in their respective countries. They are German journalist Carl von Ossietzky (in 1935), Myanmar politician Aung San Suu Kyi (in 1991), and Chinese rights activist Liu Xiaobo (in 2010). Suu Kyi is now the state counselor of Myanmar, a position equivalent to the prime minister.

8. Multiple Laureates

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The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), with three awards, has won the Nobel Prize the maximum number of times. That aside, ICRC’s founder Henry Dunant won the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901. American biochemist and peace activist Linus Pauling is the only recipient of two unshared awards. He won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1954) and the Nobel Peace Prize (1962).

9. Non-posthumous Award

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Posthumous awarding of the Nobel Prize has been stopped since 1974 after the Nobel Foundation’s statute was changed in this regard. The prize can’t be awarded posthumously unless death occurs after the winner has been announced. Before 1974, the prize was awarded posthumously on only two occasions; Erik Axel Karlfeldt for literature (1931) and Dag Hammarskjold for peace (1961).

10. It’s All in the Family

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The Curies were probably the most successful ‘Nobel Prize family’. Marie Curie herself had won two Nobel Prizes, once with her husband Pierre Curie and the other time with her daughter Irene Joliot Curie. Irene herself was a three-time winner, having also won with her husband Frederic Joliot. Marie was also the first woman to win the Nobel Prize.

11. Years without the Prize

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Since its inception, the Nobel Prize was not awarded in some years, most of them during the two World Wars. The statue of the Nobel Foundation states that if no recipient is found worthy of the prize in a particular year, the amount will be reserved until the following year.

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12. Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony in Oslo

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The Peace Prize is the only award that is not presented in Stockholm. It’s presented annually on December 10 in Oslo in the presence of the King of Norway. The date, incidentally, is the death anniversary of Alfred Nobel.

13. Paid to get the Medal

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American molecular biologist James Dewey Watson was paid $4.7 million by Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov to buy his Nobel gold medal. Watson was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work on deciphering the DNA double helix. Usmanov later returned the medal to Watson, saying that the medal should remain with the recipient and the money he paid should be used to fund research.

14. Pre-approved Speech

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Among the most interesting facts about Nobel Prize is that the winners can’t speak impromptu at the award giving ceremony. The text of the speech must be submitted to the Nobel Foundation at least 24 hours before the ceremony for approval and translating it to Swedish.

15. Nominations

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The nominations for the annual Nobel Prize are sent out by the awards committee to individuals who have shown outstanding work in a relevant field during the preceding year. The names of the nominees are never publicly disclosed. Around 300 persons are nominated with 31 January being the deadline for that year’s award.

16. Shared Peace Prizes

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The Nobel Prize was shared 30 times by two laureates. Two Nobel Peace Prizes were shared between three recipients. The 1994 prize was shared between Shimon Peres, Yaseer Arafat, and Yitzhak Rabin. Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.

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17. Nobel read his own Obituary

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While this may not be one of the facts about Nobel Prize, it’s nonetheless true that Alfred Nobel once read his own obituary. When his brother Ludwig died in 1888, a French newspaper mistakenly published Alfred’s obituary. Alfred Nobel was stunned to find out his public image. The daily condemned Nobel for inventing the dynamite. It dubbed him as ‘Le Marchand de la mort est mort’, which means ‘The Master of Death’. The newspaper went on to say that Nobel, who ‘became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday’.

Wrapping Up

Since 1901, the Nobel Prize has been honoring people from all over the world for their outstanding contribution in literature, chemistry, physics, economics, physiology, and medicine. The facts about the Nobel Prize are as interesting as Alfred Nobel himself and those who have been its recipients.