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Nobel Prize

 

The Nobel Prizes (definite form, singular, Swedish: Nobelpriset, Norwegian: Nobelprisen) are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of the cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895. The prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine,Literature, and Peace were first awarded in 1901. The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel was instituted by Sveriges Riksbank in 1968 and was first awarded in 1969. Although technically not a Nobel Prize, its announcements and presentations are made along with the other prizes, with the exception of the Peace Prize which is awarded in Oslo, Norway. Each Nobel Prize is regarded as the most prestigious award in its field.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awards the Nobel Prize in Physics, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet awards the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The Swedish Academy grants the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Nobel Peace Prize is not awarded by a Swedish organisation but by the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Each recipient, or laureate, is presented with a gold medal, a diploma, and a sum of money which depends on the Nobel Foundation's income that year. In 2009, each prize was worth 10 million SEK (c. US$1.4 million). The prize cannot be awarded posthumously, nor may a prize be shared among more than three people.

 

History

Alfred Nobel was born on 21 October 1833 in Stockholm, Sweden, into a family of engineers. He was a chemist, engineer, and inventor. In 1895 Nobel purchased the Bofors iron and steel mill, which he converted into a major armaments manufacturer. Nobel also invented ballistite, the immediate precurser to many smokeless military explosives. Nobel amassed a fortune during his lifetime, most of it from his 355 inventions, of which dynamite is the most famous. In 1888, Alfred had the unpleasant surprise of reading his own obituary, titled ‘The merchant of death is dead’, in a French newspaper. As it was Alfred's brother Ludvig who had died, the obituary was eight years premature. Alfred was disappointed with what he read and concerned with how he would be remembered. This inspired him to change his will. On 10 December 1896 Alfred Nobel died in his villa in San Remo, Italy, at the age of 63 from a cerebral haemorrhage.

To the surprise of many, Nobel's last will requested that his fortune be used to create a series of prizes for those who confer the "greatest benefit on mankind" in physics, chemistry, peace, physiology or medicine, and literature. Nobel wrote several wills during his lifetime. The last was written over a year before he died, signed at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris on 27 November 1895. Nobel bequeathed 94% of his total assets, 31 million SEK (c. US$186 million in 2008), to establish the five Nobel Prizes Because of the level of scepticism surrounding the will, it was not until 26 April 1897 that it was approved by theStorting in Norway.  The executors of his will were Ragnar Sohlman and Rudolf Lilljequist, who formed the Nobel Foundation to take care of Nobel's fortune and organise the prizes.

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 organisations were established: the Karolinska Institutet on 7 June, the Swedish Academy on 9 June, and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on 11 June. 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. In 1905, the Union between Sweden and Norway was dissolved. Thereafter Norway's Nobel Committee remained responsible for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize and the Swedish institutions retained responsibility for the other prizes.

 

Nobel Foundation

The Nobel Foundation was founded as a private organisation on 29 June 1900, to manage the finances and administration of the Nobel Prizes. In accordance with Nobel's will, the primary task of the Foundation is to manage the fortune Nobel left. 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. 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). 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)

According to the statutes, the Foundation should consist of a board of five Swedish or Norwegian citizens, with its seat in Stockholm. The Chairman of the Board should be 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.

 

First prizes

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 Norwegian Nobel Committee had appointed prominent figures including Jørgen Løvland, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Johannes Steen to give the Nobel Peace Prize credibility. The committee awarded the Peace Prize to two prominent figures in the growing peace movement around the end of the 19th century: Frédéric Passy was co-founder of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and Henry Dunantwas founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Nobel Committee's Physics Prize shortlist cited Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen's discovery of X-rays and Philipp Lenard's work on cathode rays. The Academy of Sciences selected Röntgen for the prize. In the last decades of the 19th century many chemists had made significant advances in their subject. Thus, with the Chemistry Prize, the Academy "was chiefly faced with merely deciding the order in which these scientists should be awarded the prize." The Academy received 20 nominations, eleven of them forJacobus van't Hoff. Van't Hoff was awarded the prize for his contributions in chemical thermodynamics.

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 win. 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 preferredVictorian literature and thus selected a Victorian poet. The first Physiology or Medicine Prize went to the German physicist 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.

 

 

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