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The victory of the intelligence


In the end of the XIX c. an event, worthy of Shakespeare’s pen, took place. A person who made his money out of death gave everything to peaceful purposes. Black turned white, a villain became a hero. That is how the story of Alfred Nobel and his invention began.  

The merchant of death is dead!

Alfred Nobel lived in the XIX c. He was in possession of a huge metallurgic plant. He was a chemist and an inventor, who was very rich and invented dynamite. Yet he wasn’t an altruist.. But when his brother Ludwig died, everything changed. One newspaper made a mistake and published Alfred’s obituary instead of his brother’s. The title was “The merchant of death is dead”. The inventor started thinking about what he had done for the humanity. He decided to change his will. "The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses… It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates… " — these were Alfred Nobel’s last words, which were the beginning of one of the most prestigious prizes in the world.

Speaking of mathematics, which is not included in the nomination list, there are stories that Nobel’s lover decided to leave him for someone else. But this is merely one of the versions. It is also said that firstly Alfred Nobel included mathematics in his list, but later on he replaced it with the Peace Prize. However, in one of his interviews the head of the Nobel foundation's Executive Board mentioned that one won’t find such information in the archives. It is possible that the inventor was not interested in mathematics. 

By the way, there is an interesting inconsistency with the Nobel’s will: nowadays, one can receive the Prize in economics. Actually, it is called the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. The prize was established in 1968 by a donation from Sweden's central bank (other fields in 1901), referred to along with the other Nobel Prizes by the Nobel Foundation.

Fair play

The Nobel Foundation Statute is the document, which contains guidelines for how the prizes should be awarded. The general rule is that only an individual can get the Prize (except for Peace Prize). When awarding the Prize, one names only the laureates. According to the Nobel Foundation Statute, one cannot announce any information about the nominations in 50 years (it is obvious that the information seeps into mass media, one way or another). That is why nowadays, one can find the information about the nominees at nobelprize.org. until 1967 maximum.

The procedure is the following: nomination forms are sent by the Nobel Committee to about 3,000 individuals. Regarding the Peace Prize, inquiries are also sent to governments, members of the international courts, professors, principals, former Peace Prize laureates, and former members of the Nobel Committee. There are about 300 nominees in general.

The Prize amounts to over 1.1 billion dollars. It has been lowered recently, for avoiding dwindling of assets in the long term. The interesting thing is that in 1900 the fund’s initial capital was over 31 million Swedish krona (over 250 million dollars). The prizes were given at the cost of securities transactions. The first prizes were over 150 thousand Swedish krons (42 thousand dollars).

The Nobel Prize cannot be awarded posthumously. However, if a nominee was alive, when announcing the award, but died before the ceremony, the prize is retained by him or her. This rule was established in 1974. Before that, Erik Karlfeldt (1931) and Dag Hammarskjöld (1961) were awarded posthumously. According to new rules, the prize was retained by William Vickrey, who died in several days after the Awarding Ceremony. In 2011 the rule was also broken: Ralph Steinman got the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine posthumously, as everyone thought him to be alive.

Twist of fate

Like any phenomenon, which has been in existence for quite a long time, Nobel Prize has its own amusing incidents, sad and touching stories, which can be transformed into book. Zigmund Freud, the inventor of the psychoanalysis, was nominated for the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine 32 times. In the end, the committee decided to invite an expert, who concluded that Freud’s work has no scientific value. The matter was closed. However, the scientist was nominated for prize in literature, but he also did not get it. Leo Tolstoy was nominated fewer times: 16 times for the prize in literature and 4 times for the Peace Prize. In 1958 the Soviet writer Boris Pasternak got the prize for his novel “Doctor Zhivago”. But he was persecuted by the Soviet government and declined the award. Jean-Paul Sartre (1964) and a Vietnamese politician Lê Đức Thọ (1973) also declined the prize voluntarily.

Malala Yousafzai is the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. She is a Pakistani social activist for female education. In 2014 she was announced as the Nobel Prize laureate for her “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education”. The girl was only 17 years old. Various times, the Time magazine featured her as one of “100 the most influential people globally”.

By the way, the Nobel Statute includes one particular rule. All of the prizes, except the Peace Prize, can be given only once. However, there are four laureates who got their prizes twice (Marie Skłodowska Curie). The International Committee of the Red Cross is the only laureate which got the Peace Prize three times (1917, 1944, 1963).

There was a case when two of the laureates got the same medals for the same invention. German physicists Max von Laue (1915) and James Franck (1925) handed over their medals to Niels Bohr, who was the head of the Institute of Theoretical Physics at the University of Copenhagen. After Carl von Ossietzky who was the opponent of national socialism got the Peace Prize in 1935, Germans were banned from wearing Nobel medals. When Nazi Germany occupied Denmark in April 1940, during World War II, George de Hevesy dissolved the gold Nobel Prizes medals in aqua regia, fearing that the Germans may confiscate them. After the war, he precipitated the gold out of the acid and handed it over to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. There, the Nobel Prizes were recast using the original gold and returned to their owners. By the way, George de Hevesy was also given the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Gold may be easily told

Of course, among Nobel laureates one will easily find people from Belarus or people whose ancestors lived in our country once. For example, the famous physicist Zhores Alferov (2000), the inventor of heterotransistor. His inventions are used in mobile phones, traffic lights and cash registers etc. Simon Kuznets hailed from Pinsk. In 1971 he received the Nobel Prize in economics "for his empirically founded interpretation of economic growth which has led to new and deepened insight into the economic and social structure and process of development." Obviously, he was the founder of economics as a science. Menachem Begin was born in Brest and did much for Israel’s independence. In 1978 he received the Peace Prize. In 1965 Richard Phillips Feynman received the Nobel Prize in physics. He is the creator of quantum electrodynamics (this is the basis of particle physics). Another Peace Prize (1994) went to the outstanding Israel politician Shimon Peres, for his “efforts in achieving peace in the Middle East”

Svetlana Alexievich, is the first laureate in the history of sovereign Belarus. She is the first professional journalist and non-fiction prose writer who writes in Russian since 1987, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015 "For her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time," —this is how the Nobel committee described her achievements.


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