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History of The Nobel Prize and The Nobel Laureates
Portrait of Alfred Nobel
The Story of Alfred Nobel
The history of the Nobel Prize and the Nobel Laureates begins with the life and death of the Swedish scientist and inventor, Alfred Nobel.
Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm, Sweden on October 21, 1833.
His father was an engineer by profession and also an inventor in his own right. Unfortunately, his business struggled to make ends meet and not long after Alfred's birth, it was forced into closure.
Showing typical spirit, he moved his young family to Russia and set up a new business, providing equipment to the Russian Military.
At that point he had a wife and three sons to support. The Russian business flourished.
The young Alfred was educated at home by the best private tutors that his parents could afford.
The Early Life of Alfred Nobel
Young Alfred Nobel studied the natural sciences, literature and foreign languages.
He could both write, read and speak fluently in his native Swedish and Russian, French, English and German by the age of seventeen.
Later, his father decided he should study engineering and so he was sent to Paris, which was a world leader in the field at the time..
Nobel Prize Facts
Did you know...
The youngest prize winner was Lawrence Bragg - just 25 years old when he received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1915.
He studied chemical engineering. During that time he met a young chemist - an Italian by the name of Ascanio Sobrero. Sobrero had managed to invent an extremely volatile explosive called nitroglycerine.
He showed this substance to Alfred Nobel, explaining that while it had been an interesting chemical study to produce it, he considered it to be too dangerous to serve any practical use.
However, Alfred thought otherwise and started to conduct experiments with the substance. His experiments would lead to the invention of a material that would have wide-reaching consequences in both military and civilian applications
Alfred Nobel's Laboratory
Alfred Nobel's Return to Sweden
When he had completed his studies in Paris, he returned to Russia.
Nobel Prize Facts
Did you know...
The oldest Nobel Laureate was Leonid Hurwicz, awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2007 at the age of 90 years old.
There, he explained to his father about the substance that his Italian friend had invented and together they began to explore and experiment with it in the hope of developing something that would have a commercial application.
During this time many of the experiments went disastrously wrong - even resulting in the accidental death of his youngest brother, Emil.
Shortly after this tragic event, the two elder brothers remained in Russia to continue developing the thriving business that their father had established there and the rest of the family, including Alfred, returned home to Sweden.
Alfred Nobel and the Invention of Dynamite
Despite the horrifying consequences of his experiments in Russia, Alfred continued to work with nitroglycerine.
Eventually, he managed to create an explosive substance that was less volatile and more controllable while still retaining the potency per quantity of the original substance.
In 1886, he revealed the results of his many experiments. He called the stuff, dynamite.
Not long after he put the last piece of the puzzle together and invented a detonator that could be used to ignite the explosive from a safe distance.
The Invention of Dynamite
Dynamite and the Death of Alfred Nobel
Having learned some business acumen from his father, he quickly patented the dynamite and set about developing a commercial enterprise.
While there was some demand from the military, it was not widely used in warfare as the dynamite had to be set at the point of the desired explosion and then detonated after retreating from the spot, leaving a fuse trail.
However, the uses in industry were soon evident and within a few short years, Alfred had grown to be a very rich man.
The demand for dynamite was high. It was used in quarries, excavations, tunnel building and blasting away great swathes of rock to make way for highways and rail roads which were increasingly needed for the transit not only of the public but heavy goods and merchandise.
Nobel Prize Facts
Did you know...
Barrack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for his efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.
Alfred Nobel: His Wealth and Legacy
His business was a phenomenal success and he set up ninety factories for dynamite production in some twenty different countries around the world.
Before his eventual death at his home in San Remo, in the north of Italy, he had amassed what would be considered an incredible fortune even by today's standards.
He never married and remained obsessed with all kinds of chemical experiments. He eventually died peacefully on December 10, 1896.
In his will he asked that a prize be awarded annually to the person or people responsible for the most important contribution to Physics, Chemistry and Medicine.
In addition, he requested a prize to be granted for the greatest achievement in Literature and a Peace Prize for the most significant work to develop peaceful relations between nations.
The first Nobel Prizes were awarded in the year 1901, five years after his death.
The Nobel Prize Award Ceremony
The award ceremony for the giving of the Nobel Prizes takes place in Sweden on December 10th each year, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death.
Nobel Prize Ceremony in Stockholm
The prizes are awarded by the King of Sweden.
Each Nobel Laureate, as the prize-winners are known, receives a medal bearing the portrait of Alfred Nobel, a diploma and a sum of money in Swedish Kronor.
The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded on the same anniversary but is given in Oslo, Norway.
Although not a part of the original legacy, in 1969, the prize for Economic Sciences was added to the award list.
The only times that no prizes have been awarded were during the first and second world wars when the conflict rendered the prize-giving a practical impossibility.
Famous Nobel Laureates
There have been many Nobel Laureates over the years and across all the prizes.
While most laureates never become household names, among their company are some of the most famous names in modern history.
Listed below are some of the most famous - and in some cases perhaps controversial - Nobel Laureates of more recent times.
Nobel Peace prize 2007: Al Gore
Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize (jointly with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) in 2007.
The judges said that they had chosen to award the peace prize to the IPCC and Al Gore for
"their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change"
Those wishing to deny the evidence for anthropogenic climate change (typically a consequence of religious bigotry, ignorance of the science or economic self-interest) and so wishing to deny the evidence for anthropogenic climate change, of course found this award to be controversial. Others wondered how things might have been if Al gore had ever had the chance to be president.
Al Gore's Nobel peace Prize Acceptance Speech
Nobel Peace Prize 1964: Dr Martin Luther King
When Dr King was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1964, he was only thirty-five years old and at the time the youngest man to have won the Prize.
He was awarded the prize for his work in furthering civil rights.
In a typical gesture of commitment and selfless generosity, Dr. King handed the prize money of $54,123 to assist the fulfillment of the movement for civil rights.
He was assassinated on the balcony of his Memphis hotel room in 1968.
At the news of his death, the entire nation went into mourning.
Below you can see the famous and moving speech that Robert Kennedy made when he announced Dr. King's death.
Robert Kennedy announces the death of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr Martin Luther King
Nobel Prize for Physics 1921: Albert Einstein
It should be little surprise to discover that Albert Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921.
The committee write that the prize had been awarded to this possibly most famous and influential of all scientists after Darwin, because of
" his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect".
Here below you can see and hear the great man giving part of a lecture to the Nobel prize committee. There is no footage of him giving his acceptance speech as cinematography was still in its infancy and television had not yet been invented in 1921.
Albert Einstein Gives Nobel Prize Lecture
Nobel Peace Prize 1993: Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela, the revolutionary human rights activist who sought an end to the racial segregation regime of Apartheid in South Africa, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the then South African President, F. W. de Klerk.
The Nobel Prize Committee stated that the award had been made for
"their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa"
There were others involved in this great struggle, of course - not least Steven Biko, but it is doubtful that a democratic South Africa would have been possible without the figurehead and charismatic leadership of Nelson Mandela.
Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela Celebrates The Peace Prize
Nobel Prize for Literature 1953: Sir Winston Churchill.
Winston Churchill received The Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953.
Perhaps best known as the Prime Minister of Great Britain during the Second World War, he was also an established and much admired author of historical, biographical and auto-biographical works.
The Nobel Prize Committee awarded him the prize for
"his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values".
Below you can hear a typical Churchill speech in which he demonstrates his skills in classical oratorical style.
Nobel Prize Poll (sorry - no prizes!)
Did you learn something new here?
The Future of the Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prize has recently been the focus of a storm of controversy surrounding its validity and there is an on-going debate about how the prizes should be awarded.
There have been any number of controversial decisions regarding the giving of Nobel prizes. Equally, there are some, such as the award of a Peace Prize to child educational activist, Malala Yusafzai, that have been widely agreed and supported.
Nevertheless, the legacy remains and I think we can be confident that there will be many, many more Nobel Laureates to come.
Find out more: Nobel Prize Resources
If you want to find out more about the Nobel Prizes and the Laureates past and present, here are some great resources you can explore to go deeper into it.
Nobelprize.org, Official web site of the Nobel Prize
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Articles at stuff4kids are written exclusively by expert author, Amanda Littlejohn. Amanda is a retired educator with many years of experience teaching children of all ages and abilities in a wide range of professional and informal settings. She now specializes in writing and publishing valuable resources for use in educational contexts.
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