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The Nobel Prize ( ) is a Sweden-based international monetary prize. The award was established by the 1895 will and estate of Swedish chemist and inventor Alfred Nobel. It was first awarded in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace in 1901. An associated prize, The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, was instituted by Sweden's central bankmarker in 1968 and first awarded in 1969. "Nobel Prize" (2007), in Encyclopædia Britannica, accessed 14 November 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: . The Nobel Prizes in the specific disciplines (physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and literature) and the Prize in Economics, which is commonly identified with them, are widely regarded as the most prestigious award one can receive in those fields.


With the exception of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel Prizes and the Prize in Economics are presented in Stockholmmarker, Swedenmarker, at the annual Prize Award Ceremony on the 10th of December, the anniversary of Nobel's death. The recipients' lectures are presented in the days prior to the award ceremony. The Nobel Peace Prize and its recipients' lectures are presented at the annual Prize Award Ceremony in Oslomarker, Norwaymarker, also on the 10th of December. The award ceremonies and the associated banquets are typically major international events.

It is unclear why Nobel wished the Peace Prize to be administered in Norway. The Norwegian Nobel Committee speculates that Norway may have been better suited to awarding the prize as it did not have the same militaristic traditions as Sweden and that at the end of the nineteenth century the Norwegian parliament had become closely involved in the Inter-Parliamentary Union's efforts to resolve conflicts through mediation and arbitration.

Further, at the time the Nobel prizes were instituted, Norway and Sweden were joined together in a union known as the Swedish-Norwegian Union. It is possible Nobel felt that Norway deserved a share of awarding the prize honors.

Alfred Nobel's will

Five Nobel Prizes were instituted by the final will of Alfred Nobel, a Swedishmarker chemist and industrialist, who was the inventor of the high explosive dynamite. Though Nobel wrote several wills during his lifetime, the last was written a little over a year before he died, and signed at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Parismarker on 27 November 1895. Nobel bequeathed 94% of his total assets, 31 million Swedish kronor, to establish and endow the five Nobel Prizes. (As of 2008 that equates to 186 million US dollars.)

Although Nobel's will established the prizes, 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 on 10 December 1901. As of December 31, 2007, the assets controlled by the Nobel Foundation amounted to 3.628 billion Swedish kronor (approx. $560 million US Dollars)

Nomination and selection

The Prize nomination and selection process is long and rigorous. This is a key reason why the Prizes have grown in importance over the years to become the most important prizes in their field.

The Nobel laureates are selected by their respective Nobel Committees. For the Prizes in Physics, Chemistry and Economics, a committee consists of five members elected by The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; for the Prize in Literature, a committee of four to five members of the Swedish Academymarker; for the Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the committee consists of five members selected by The Nobel Assembly, which consists of 50 members elected by Karolinska Institutetmarker; for the Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee consists of five members elected by the Norwegian Stortingmarker (the Norwegian parliament). In its first stage, several thousand people are asked to nominate candidates. These names are scrutinized and discussed by experts in their specific disciplines until only the winners remain. This slow and thorough process is arguably what gives the prize its importance. Despite this, there have been questionable awards and questionable omissions over the prize's century-long history.

Forms, which amount to a personal and exclusive invitation, are sent to about three thousand selected individuals to invite them to submit nominations. For the peace prize, inquiries are sent to such people as governments of states, members of international courts, professors and rectors at university level, former Peace Prize laureates, current or former members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, among others. The Norwegian Nobel Committee then bases its assessment on nominations sent in before 3 February. The submission deadline for nominations for Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Economics is 31 January. Self-nominations and nominations of deceased people are disqualified.

The names of the nominees are never publicly announced, and neither are they told that they have been considered for the Prize. Nomination records are sealed for 50 years. In practice, some nominees do become known. It is also common for publicists to make such a claim, founded or not.

After the deadline has passed, the nominations are screened by committee, and a list is produced of approximately 200 preliminary candidates. This list is forwarded to selected experts in the relevant field. They remove all but approximately 15 names. The committee submits a report with recommendations to the appropriate institution. The Assembly for the Physiology or Medicine Prize, for example, has 50 members. The institution members then select prize winners by vote.

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

While posthumous nominations are not permitted, awards can occur if the individual died in the months between the nomination and the decision of the prize committee. The scenario has occurred twice: the 1931 Literature Prize of Erik Axel Karlfeldt, and the 1961 Peace Prize to UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld. As of 1974, laureates must be alive at the time of the October announcement. There has been one laureate—William Vickrey (1996, Economics)—who died after the prize was announced but before it could be presented.

Recognition time lag

Nobel's will provides for prizes to be awarded in recognition for discoveries made "during the preceding year", and during the early years of the awards, the discoveries recognized were recent. However, some awards were made for discoveries that were later discredited. Taking the discrediting of a recognized discovery as an embarrassment, the awards committees began to recognize scientific discoveries that had withstood the test of time, but which occured well before the one-year time frame specified in Nobel's will.

The interval between the accomplishment of the achievement being recognized and the awarding of the Nobel Prize for it varies from discipline to discipline. The prizes in Literature are typically awarded to recognize a cumulative lifetime body of work rather than a single achievement. In this case the notion of "lag" does not directly apply. The prizes in Peace can also be awarded for a lifetime body of work. However, they can also be awarded for specific events. In this case, they are awarded within a few years of the event. For instance, Kofi Annan was awarded the 2001 Peace Prize just four years after becoming the Secretary-General of the United Nations. On the other hand, 2008 winner Martti Ahtisaari won it "for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts."

Awards in the scientific disciplines of physics, chemistry, and medicine 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 even longer. For example, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar shared the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on stellar structure and evolution from the 1930s. Not all scientists live long enough for their work to be recognized. Some important scientific discoveries are never considered for a Prize if the discoverers have died by the time the impact of their work is realized.

Award ceremonies

The committees and institutions serving as the selection boards for the Nobel Prizes typically announce the names of the laureates in October, with the Prizes awarded at formal ceremonies held annually on 10 December, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death. These Prize ceremonies are held at the Stockholm Concert Hallmarker, with the Nobel Banquet following immediately at Stockholm City Hallmarker.

The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony has been held at the Norwegian Nobel Institutemarker (1905–1946); at the Aula of the University of Oslomarker (1947–1990); and most recently at the Oslo City Hallmarker.

A maximum of three laureates and two different works may be selected per award. Each award can be given to a maximum of three recipients per year. Each "Nobel Prize Award" consists of a gold medal, a diploma, and a monetary grant:
 The grant is currently 10 million SEK, slightly more than US$1.4 million.

If there are two winners in a particular 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. It is not uncommon for recipients to donate prize money to benefit scientific, cultural or humanitarian causes.

Since 1902, the King of Sweden has, with the exception of the Nobel Peace Prize, presented all the prizes in Stockholmmarker. 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 Parliamentmarker (Stortinget), they are independent and answer to no legislative authority. Members of the Norwegian government are not permitted to sit on the Committee.

Nobel Banquet

After the award ceremony at the Concert Hall, around 1300 guests proceed to the Stockholm City Hallmarker, where a banquet featuring a three course dinner, entertainment and dancing is held. The Royal Family of Sweden and the Nobel Prize Laureates are guests of honour. The banquet is extensively covered by Swedish and International media.

Previously, the Nobel Prizes ceremony was held in a ballroom in Stockholm's Grand Hotelmarker.

Nobel NightCap

Since 1978, sanctioned by the Nobel foundation, the student unions at four of Stockholm's institutions of higher learning: Stockholm Universitymarker, Royal Institute of Technologymarker, Stockholm School of Economicsmarker and Karolinska Institutetmarker , arrange a lavish afterparty on a rotating basis, to be held after the Nobel Banquet. Nobel NightCap is designed around a secret theme, unveiled at the eve of the party. The event is aimed at providing the Nobel Laureates and other guests with an opportunity to continue celebrations in a relaxed environment without media participation.

Nobel Prize medals

The Nobel Prize medals, which have been minted by Myntverket in Sweden and the Mint of Norway since 1902, are registered trademarks of the Nobel Foundation. All of these medal designs feature an image of Alfred Nobel in left profile on the obverse (the face of the medal). Four of the five Nobel Prize medals (Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, and Literature) feature the same design on the obverse (front sides). The reverse sides of the Nobel Prize medals for Chemistry and Physics share a design. Both sides of the Nobel Peace Prize Medal and the Medal for The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel are unique designs.

Due to their gold content and public display, Nobel medals are subject to medal theft. During World War II, the medals of German scientists Max von Laue and James Franck were (illegally) sent to Copenhagen for safekeeping. When Germany invaded Denmark, chemist George de Hevesy dissolved them in aqua regia, 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.

Controversies and criticisms

Since the first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901, the proceedings, nominations, awards and exclusions have generated criticism and engendered much controversy.

Overlooked achievements

Mahatma Gandhi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times between 1937 and 1948 but never received the prize, being assassinated on 30 January 1948 two days before the closing date for the 1948 Peace Prize nominations. The Norwegian Nobel Committee had very likely planned to give him the Peace Prize in 1948 as they considered a posthumous award, but ultimately decided against it, and instead chose not to award the prize that year. A U.S. philatelic exhibition in Chicagomarker, Chicagopex 2001, chose to honor the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize with a special show of commemorative postal cachets. One theme of the exhibition cast a shadow on the Nobel Peace Prize’s first century – the fact that the Peace Prize had not been awarded to Mahatma Gandhi.

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 Frankfurtmarker. Another well known miss was the Nobel Prize in Physics of 1965, that was awarded to Richard P. Feynman, Julian S. Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga but failed to recognize the contribution of Freeman C. Dyson, that demonstrated the equivalence of the formulations of quantum electrodynamics of the other three scientists.

Similarly, the prohibition of posthumous awards fails to recognise achievements by a collaborator who happens to die before the prize is awarded. Rosalind Franklin, who was key in the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953, 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. Franklin's significant and relevant contribution was only briefly mentioned in Crick and Watson's now-famous paper: "We have also been stimulated by a knowledge of the general nature of the unpublished experimental results and ideas of Dr. M.H.F. Wilkins, Dr. R.E. Franklin, and co-workers....", but of course was highlighted in Franklin's own paper (with Raymond Gosling) which accompanied Watson and Crick's paper.

In some cases, awards have arguably omitted similar discoveries made earlier. For example, the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for "the discovery and development of conductive organic polymers" (1977) ignored the much earlier discovery of highly-conductive charge transfer complex polymers: the 1963 series of papers by Weiss, et al. reported even higher conductivity in similarly iodine-doped oxidized polypyrrole.

Lack of a Nobel Prize in Mathematics

There is no Nobel Prize in Mathematics, which has led to considerable speculation about why Alfred Nobel omitted it. Some recipients of the Nobel Prize in other fields also have notable achievements in or have made outstanding contributions to mathematics; for example, Bertrand Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (1950) and Max Born and Walther Bothe shared the Nobel Prize in Physics (1954). Some others with advanced credentials in mathematics and/or who are known primarily as mathematicians have been awarded the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel: Kenneth Arrow (1972), Leonid Kantorovich (1975), John Forbes Nash (1994), Clive W. J. Granger (2003), Robert J. Aumann (who shared the 2005 Prize with Thomas C. Schelling), and Roger Myerson and Eric Maskin (2007).

Several prizes in mathematics have some similarities to the Nobel Prize. The Fields Medal is often described as the "Nobel Prize of mathematics", but it differs in being awarded only once every four years to people not older than forty years old. Other prestigious prizes in mathematics are the Crafoord Prize, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences since 1982; the Abel Prize which has also been called the "Nobel Prize of mathematics" and has been awarded by the Norwegian government annually, beginning in 2003; the Wolf Prize awarded once a year by the Wolf Foundation; the Shaw Prize in mathematical sciences awarded since 2004; and the Gauss Prize, granted jointly by the International Mathematical Union and the German Mathematical Society for "outstanding mathematical contributions that have found significant applications outside of mathematics," and introduced at the International Congress of Mathematicians in 2006. The Clay Mathematics Institutemarker has devised seven "Millennium Problems," whose solution results in a significant cash award: since it has a clear, predetermined objective for its award and since it can be awarded whenever a problem is solved, this prize also differs from the Nobel Prizes.

There is also no Nobel Prize in computer science, which, as a discipline, historically grew out of mathematics. The Turing Award of the Association for Computing Machinery is often called the "Nobel prize of computing."

Emphasis on discoveries over inventions

Alfred Nobel left a fortune to finance annual prizes to be awarded "to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind". One part, he stated, should be given "to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics". Nobel did not emphasize discoveries, but they have historically been held in higher respect by the Nobel prize committee than inventions: 77% of Nobel prizes in physics 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 in the preceding year.

Specially distinguished laureates

Multiple laureates

Since the establishment of the Nobel Prize, four people have received two Nobel Prizes:

As a group, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has received the Nobel Peace Prize three times: in 1917, 1944, and 1963. The first two prizes were specifically in recognition of the group's work during the world wars, and the third was awarded at the year of its 100-Year Anniversary.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has won the Peace Prize twice: in 1954 and 1981.

Family laureates

A number of families have included multiple laureates.

Refusals and constraints

Two laureates voluntarily declined the Nobel Prize:

Adolf Hitler constrained three laureates not to accept the Nobel Prize; however, they were given their prizes after the end of the Second World War:
  • Richard Kuhn, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1938
  • Adolf Butenandt, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1939
  • Gerhard Domagk, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1939

The Soviet Unionmarker government also constrained Boris Pasternak not to accept his Nobel Prize in Literature in 1958.

See also



  • "Annan, U.N. Cited for Peace Work, Win Nobel". In Nobel Centennial. Copyright © 2003 Cable News Network LP, LLLP 2003. Accessed 5 November 2007. (Concerns the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Kofi Annan and the United Nations.)
  • "The Definitive Guide to The Nobel Prizes". The Local ("Sweden's News in English"), 6 November 2007. Copyright © The Local Europe AB 2007. Accessed 5 November 2007.
  • Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to the Nobel Prizes. Copyright © 2007 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Accessed 5 November 2007.
  • Lemmel, Birgitta. "The Nobel Prize Medals and the Medal for the Prize in Economics". Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2006. Accessed 9 November 2007.
  • Liljestrand, Göran, and Carl Gustaf Bernhard. "The Prize in Physiology or Medicine". 139-278 of Nobel: The Man and His Prizes. 1950. Ed. Nobel Foundation and Wilhelm Odelberg (Coordinating Ed.). 3rd ed. New York: American Elsevier Publishing Company, Inc., 1972. ISBN 0444001174.
  • "The Nobel Prize Award Ceremonies". Copyright © Nobel Web AB 2007. Accessed 9 November 2007.
  • Odelberg, Wilhelm. "Foreword: Alfred Nobel: The Man and His Prizes". The Who's Who of Nobel Prize Winners: 1901–2000. Ed. Louise S. Sherby. 4th ed. Westport, CT: Oryx Press, 2002. ISBN 1573564141 (10). ISBN 9781573564144 (13).
  • Schück, Henrik, Ragnar Sohlman, Anders Österling, Carl Gustaf Bernhard, the Nobel Foundation, and Wilhelm Odelberg, eds. Nobel: The Man and His Prizes. 1950. 3rd ed. Coordinating Ed., Wilhelm Odelberg. New York: American Elsevier Publishing Company, Inc., 1972. ISBN 0444001174 (10). ISBN 9780444001177 (13). (Originally published in Swedish as Nobelprisen 50 år: forskare, diktare, fredskämpar.)
  • "What the Nobel Laureates Receive". Copyright © Nobel Web AB 2007. Accessed 9 November 2007.

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