Nobel Prize

Historical Context and Alfred Nobel's Legacy

  • Alfred Nobel’s Background: Born into a family of engineers, Nobel was well-educated and multilingual. His interests spanned various scientific fields, leading to significant inventions and industrial ventures.
  • Dynamite Invention: Nobel's invention of dynamite revolutionized construction and demolition industries but also had military applications, causing him personal and ethical dilemmas.
  • Last Will: Nobel's 1895 will directed that his fortune be used to create prizes for those who “conferred the greatest benefit to humankind” in specific fields. This decision was likely influenced by his desire to leave a positive legacy after being labeled as the "merchant of death."

President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Raadhuset Main Hall at Oslo City Hall in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10, 2009.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Raadhuset Main Hall at Oslo City Hall in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 10, 2009.

Categories and Notable Contributions

1. Peace Prize
  • Criteria: Awarded to individuals or organizations that have made significant efforts to promote peace, resolve conflicts, or combat oppression.
  • Notable Recipients:
    • Martin Luther King Jr. (1964): For his non-violent struggle for civil rights for the Afro-American population.
    • Malala Yousafzai (2014): For her struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.
    • International Campaign to Ban Landmines (1997): For their efforts to eliminate anti-personnel mines.

2. Literature Prize
  • Criteria: Recognizes authors with exceptional literary works, often reflecting human conditions, societal issues, or promoting an ideal.
  • Notable Recipients:
    • Gabriel García Márquez (1982): For his novels and short stories, where the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination.
    • Toni Morrison (1993): For her visionary force and poetic import, which gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.
    • Bob Dylan (2016): For having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.

3. Physics Prize
  • Criteria: Given for discoveries that have significantly advanced our understanding of the universe, from subatomic particles to cosmic phenomena.
  • Notable Recipients:
    • Albert Einstein (1921): For his discovery of the photoelectric effect, which was pivotal in establishing quantum theory.
    • Marie Curie (1903): For her work on radioactivity, making her the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.
    • Peter Higgs and François Englert (2013): For the theoretical discovery of the Higgs boson, recently confirmed through the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider.

4. Chemistry Prize
  • Criteria: Honors those who have made outstanding contributions to the science of chemistry, often with significant practical applications.
  • Notable Recipients:
    • Marie Curie (1911): For her discoveries in radioactivity.
    • Ahmed Zewail (1999): For his pioneering work on femtochemistry, the study of chemical reactions on extremely short timescales.
    • Frances H. Arnold (2018): For her work on the directed evolution of enzymes.

5. Physiology or Medicine Prize
  • Criteria: Recognizes groundbreaking discoveries in the life sciences and medicine that have improved human health and understanding of biological processes.
  • Notable Recipients:
    • Alexander Fleming (1945): For the discovery of penicillin.
    • James Watson and Francis Crick (1962): For their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material.
    • Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier (2020): For the development of CRISPR-Cas9, a method for genome editing.

6. Economic Sciences Prize
  • Criteria: Awarded for outstanding contributions to the field of economics, encompassing a broad range of topics from market analysis to behavioral economics.
  • Notable Recipients:
    • Amartya Sen (1998): For his contributions to welfare economics and social choice theory.
    • Elinor Ostrom (2009): For her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons.
    • Richard Thaler (2017): For his contributions to behavioral economics.

Selection and Award Process

  • Nomination Process: Nominations are submitted by a select group of qualified nominators, which include previous laureates, members of the awarding institutions, and other prominent figures in each field.
  • Committee Review: The Nobel Committees, specific to each category, review nominations, consult experts, and conduct investigations to assess the candidates' contributions.
  • Decision Making: The Committees make recommendations to the awarding institutions, which include the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Karolinska Institute, the Swedish Academy, and the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
  • Announcement and Ceremony: Winners are announced in October, and the awards are presented on December 10th. The Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, while the others are presented in Stockholm.

Medals and Diplomas

  • Design: Each Nobel Prize medal features a portrait of Alfred Nobel on the obverse. The reverse varies by category, often depicting allegorical figures or scenes.
  • Diplomas: Handcrafted by Swedish and Norwegian artists, each diploma is unique, featuring artwork and calligraphy that reflect the laureate's achievement.
  • Monetary Prize: The monetary award is derived from Nobel’s endowment and varies each year. It is often shared if there are multiple laureates for a single prize.

Impact and Criticism

  • Global Recognition: Nobel Prizes significantly enhance the visibility and impact of laureates' work, often leading to increased funding and research opportunities.
  • Controversies: Some awards have been contentious, such as:
    • Literature: The selection of Bob Dylan sparked debate over whether a songwriter should receive the prize.
    • Peace: The awards to Henry Kissinger and Barack Obama were controversial, with critics questioning the laureates' contributions to peace.
  • Exclusions: Notable figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Nikola Tesla were never awarded, despite their significant contributions, leading to debates about the selection criteria and process.


  • Scientific Advancement: Nobel Prizes often catalyze further research and innovation in the laureates’ fields.
  • Cultural Impact: The Literature Prize brings international attention to diverse literary traditions, while the Peace Prize highlights critical issues and efforts in global peace.
  • Educational Influence: Nobel laureates often become influential educators and advocates, inspiring new generations of scientists, writers, and activists.

The Nobel Prize continues to be a symbol of the highest honor, celebrating human achievement and fostering progress across various disciplines.