They are the most coveted awards in the world: the Nobel Prize is awarded in Peace, Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature and Economics. Everything about the winners, their achievements and their contributions are celebrated in a special event of honour.

Nobel Prize Facts
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Founder of the Nobel Prizes: Alfred Nobel

Nobel Prize Founder Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel (1833 to 1896) is the founder of the most famous award in the world. The inventor of dynamite was at the time one of the richest men in the world. In his will, he decided that with his fortune of around 33 million Krona, a foundation should be established. The interest from the fund should go annually to those who “have made the greatest benefit to mankind in the past year”. The Foundation was founded four years after Nobel’s death. On the fifth anniversary of his death, December 10, 1901, the Nobel Prizes were awarded for the first time.

Who is responsible for awarding the Nobel Prize?

Alfred Nobel specified in his will exactly which institutes are responsible for the award. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awards the Nobel Prize for Physics and Chemistry, the Karolinska Institute is in charge of the Nobel Prize for Physiology / Medicine, and the literature prize winners are selected by the Swedish Academy.

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize, in turn, is in the hands of a five-member committee set up by the Norwegian Parliament in Oslo. Why Alfred Nobel decided to do so is unknown as he never explained his motives. In his lifetime, however, Sweden and Norway formed a union that was dissolved in 1905.

In 1968, the Swedish Reichsbank donated the Alfred Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics, which is worth as much as the original Nobel Prizes.

Nobel Prize ceremony.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JONATHAN NACKSTRAND, AFP, GETTY

The selection process – top secret

Every year, when the King of Sweden presents the prize on December 10, the day of Alfred Nobel’s death, in Stockholm’s concert hall, the search for the coming year is already taking place behind the scenes.

A total of around 6,000 people are formally asked to vote by the five-member Nobel Committee, which must be formed by 31 January. Proposals can only be submitted to individuals, not institutions. Anyone who suggests himself is automatically disqualified.

The circle of nominators includes all previous Nobel laureates as well as the professors of Scandinavian university faculties of the respective discipline. Depending on the discipline, scientific institutions around the world and selected experts are involved.

The final round

This way, about 200 names come together in each subject by the end of January. The commissions are now asked for advice on proposals that will help them reach a shortlist in early September.

The final decision lies with the Nobel meetings of the award-winning institutes. As a rule, the proposals of the commissions are accepted, but occasionally, a different decision is made as the final decisions are made by the Central Committee.

Each member of the commission, each assessor and every academician commits themselves to the strictest secrecy for 50 years. The fact that no information is leaked to the public before the announcement of the decision contributes to the aura of the Nobel Prize, as does the scarce justifications, which rarely include more than one sentence. All decisions are final and can not be challenged.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate and education activist Malala Yousafzai
PHOTOGRAPH BY ODD ANDERSEN, AFP, GETTY

The money

The amount of the prize is based on the earnings of the Nobel Foundation and varies from year to year. Since 2017, each Nobel Prize has been endowed with 9 million Swedish Krona (about 870,000 euros). Thus, the price in real value reached the level of the first award in 1901, when the price of 150,000 crowns corresponded to 20 times the annual salary of a university professor.

That was not always so. For a long time, the foundation suffered from Swedish tax laws and until 1946 was Sweden’s largest taxpayer. Since 1946, the Nobel Foundation, which now manages shares and government bonds worth four billion Krona, has been exempt from tax, which contributed to price performance as well as the liberalization of investment policy approved by the government in 1953.

Earlier, the King of Sweden, together with the certificate and the gold medal, presented the winners with a check. Today, the money, which many prize winners themselves donate for charitable purposes, is transferred according to their wishes.

Multiple award winners

Four people have received the Nobel Prize twice: Marie Curie (1903 for physics and 1911 for chemistry), Linus Pauling (1954 for chemistry and 1962 for peace), John Bardeen (1956 and 1972 respectively for physics) and Frederick Sanger (1958 and 1980 each for chemistry). Three times the International Committee of the Red Cross was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (197, 1944 and 1963), two peace awards went to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (1954 and 1981).

Nobel Prize Winner Marie Curie
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Indians who have won Nobel Prize

Indian Citizens

1913Rabindranath TagoreLiterature
1930C. V. RamanPhysics
1979Mother TeresaPeace
1998Amartya SenEconomic Sciences
2014Kailash SatyarthiPeace
2019Abhijeet BanerjeeEconomics

Born in India

1968Har Gobind KhoranaUnited States
(born in Raipur,India)
1983Subrahmanyan ChandrasekharUnited States
(born in Lahore,India)
2009Venkatraman RamakrishnanUnited Kingdom/United States
(born in Chidambaram,India)
2019Abhijit BanerjeeUnited States
(born in Mumbai,India)

Akash Saini
7 November 2019

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