People around the world are familiar with the prestigious Nobel Prize—an achievement award offered to persons who have, as the prize’s founder put it, “conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” The prize is offered in six categories: physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, peace, and economics. 2023’s winners include the following:
- Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L’Huillier in physics “for experimental methods that generate attosecond pulses of light for the sturdy of electron dynamics in matter.”
- Moungi G. Bawendi, Louis E. Brus, and Aleksey I. Yekimov in chemistry “for the discovery and synthesis of quantum dots.”
- Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman in physiology or medicine “for their discoveries concerning nucleoside base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.”
- Jon Fosse in literature “for his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable.”
- Narges Mohammadi in peace “for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all.”
- Claudia Goldin in economics “for having advanced our understanding of women’s labour market outcomes.”
The Nobel Prize fund was established in the will of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish inventor, on November 27, 1895. He left most of his wealth to the fund and was very particular about how the prizes were to be chosen and who was to choose them.
He wrote, “The interest is to be divided into five equal parts and distributed as follows: one part to the person who made the most important discovery in the field of physics; one par tot the person who made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who, in the field of literature, produced the most outstanding work in an idealistic direction; and one part to the person who has done the most or best to advance fellowship among nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and the establishment and promotion of peace congresses.”
These five prizes were first awarded in 1901. The prize in economics was established in 1968 by the Swedish bank, Sveriges Riksbank, in memory of Alfred Nobel and has been awarded with the rest since that time.
The winners of the Nobel prizes are chosen by committees from establishments identified by Alfred Nobel. The Swedish Academy of Sciences chooses for physics and chemistry. The Karolinska Institute in Stockholm chooses for physiology or medicine. The Swedish Academy chooses for literature, and the Norwegian Sorting chooses for peace. Nobel specifically noted that “no consideration be given to nationality, but that the prize be awarded to the worthiest person.”
Thousands of nominations are sent to these committees every year, and they do intense research into the accomplishments of each nominee before choosing the winner. The winners are announced in autumn and awarded the prize on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. Some notable winners of the Nobel Prize are Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Ernest Hemingway, Nelson Mandela, and Barack Obama.
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