About all that’s Nobel

The Nobel Prizes were instituted by the final will of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist, industrialist, and the inventor of dynamite. Nobel wrote several wills during his lifetime. The last one was written in 1895 — a little over a year before he died. He signed it at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris on November 27, 1895. Nobel’s work had directly involved the creation of explosives, and he became increasingly uneasy with the military usage of his inventions.

It is said that this was motivated in part by his reading of a premature obituary of himself, published in error by a French newspaper on the occasion of the death of Nobel’s brother Ludvig, and which condemned Alfred as a “merchant of death.” So in his will, Alfred left 94 per cent of his worth (31 million kronor or $4,223,500) to the establishment of five prizes.

The Nobels

Every year since 1901, the Nobel Prize has been awarded for achievements in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and for Peace. The Nobel Prize is an international award administered by the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden.

In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank established The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize.

Each prize consists of a medal, personal diploma, and a cash award.

Since 1974, no award may be made posthumously, that is nominees must be alive at the time of their nomination.


Each award can be given to a maximum of three recipients per year. They each consist of a

gold medal; a diploma; the extension of Swedish citizenship; and a sum of money — currently the latter is about ten million Swedish Kronor (about $1.4 million).

Originally this money was meant to fund laureates’ further work, although nowadays many laureates are retired at the time their award is made.

More than one

If there are two winners in one category, the award money is split equally between them. If there are three winners, the awarding committee has the option of splitting the prize money equally among all three, or awarding half of the prize money to one recipient and one-quarter to each of the other two.

Nobel Foundation

A private institution established in 1900, the Foundation manages the assets made available through the will for the awarding of the Nobel Prizes. It represents the Nobel Institutions externally and administers informational activities and arrangements surrounding the presentation of the Nobel Prize. The Foundation also administers the Nobel Symposium Program.

Who selects the Nobel Laureates?

Who selects the Nobel Laureates? In his last will and testament, Nobel specifically designated the institutions responsible for the prizes he wished to be established: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for the Nobel Prize in Physics and Chemistry, Karolinska Institute for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the Swedish Academy for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and a Committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Parliament (Storting) for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has been given the task to select the Economics Prize Laureates.

Nobel nominations

Each year the respective Nobel committees send individual invitations to thousands of members of academies, university professors, scientists from numerous countries, previous Nobel Laureates, members of parliamentary assemblies and others, asking them to submit candidates for the Nobel Prizes for the coming year.

Laureates of 2006

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2006 was awarded to Andrew Z Fire, Stanford University, School of Medicine, Stanford, US and Craig C Mello, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, US “for their discovery of RNA interference — gene silencing by double-stranded RNA”.

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2006 was awarded to John C Mather, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, US and George F Smoot, University of California, Berkeley, US “for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation”.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Roger D Kornberg, Stanford University, US “for his studies of the molecular basis of eukaryotic transcription”.

The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel was awarded to Edmund S Phelps, Columbia University, New York, US “for his analysis of intertemporal tradeoffs in macroeconomic policy”.

The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Orhan Pamuk of Turkey “who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures”.

The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh,

founded by Yunus in 1976, ‘for their efforts to create economic and social

development from below’.