All you need to know about Nobel prizes

December 10, 2014 01:32 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 11:29 pm IST - Stockholm

The 1936 Nobel Peace Prize

The 1936 Nobel Peace Prize

From 1901 till this year, Nobel prizes have been awarded 567 times to 864 Laureates and 25 organisations with the youngest winner being Peace Prize awardee Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan at 17 years.

By winning the Peace Nobel at this tender age along with >India’s Kailash Satyarthi, Ms. Yousafzai beat the previous record of Lawrence Bragg, who won the Physics Nobel in 1915 at the age of 25.

Kailash Satyarthi (left) and Malala Yousafzai

The word “Laureate” signifies the laurel wreath awarded to winners of athletic competitions and poetic meets in Ancient Greece. In Greek mythology, god Apollo is represented wearing on his head a laurel wreath, a circular crown made of branches and leaves of the bay laurel.

The statutes of the Nobel Foundation say, “If none of the works under consideration is found to be of the importance indicated in the first paragraph, the prize money shall be reserved until the following year.”

“If, even then, the prize cannot be awarded, the amount shall be added to the Foundation’s restricted funds.”

On 27 November 1895, Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament, giving the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace.

In 1968, Sweden’s central bank Sveriges Riksbank established The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in memory of Nobel.

At the Nobel Award ceremonies on December 10, the Laureates receive three things: a Nobel Diploma, a Nobel Medal and a document confirming the Nobel Prize amount.

Each Nobel Diploma is a unique work of art, created by foremost Swedish and Norwegian artists and calligraphers.

The Nobel Medals are handmade with careful precision and in 18 carat green gold plated with 24 carat gold.

The Nobel Prize amount for 2014 is set at Swedish kronor (SEK) 8.0 million per full Nobel Prize.

Interesting facts

The average age of all Nobel Laureates in all prize categories between 1901 and 2014 is 59 years.

Two most common birthdays among the Nobel Laureates are May 21 and February 28.

Since 1901, prizes have not been awarded 50 times, most of them during World War I (1914-1918) and II (1939-1945).

Leonid Hurwicz has the distinction of being the oldest Nobel recipient at the age of 90 for Economics in 2007.

Till now, 47 women have won the Nobel while two Laureates declined the prize.

Jean-Paul Sartre, awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature, > declined it as he had consistently declined all official honours .

Jean-Paul Sartre

Le Duc Tho, awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for negotiating the Vietnam peace accord, said he was not in a position to accept the award, citing the situation in Vietnam as his reason.

Four Laureates were forced by authorities to decline the Nobel.

Adolf Hitler forbade three Germans Richard Kuhn, Adolf Butenandt and Gerhard Domagk, from accepting the Nobel Prize.

They, however, received the Nobel Prize Diploma and Medal later but not the prize amount.

Boris Pasternak, the 1958 Nobel Laureate in Literature, initially accepted the Prize but was later coerced by authorities of his native country the Soviet Union to decline the award.

Three Peace Laureates — Germany’s Carl von Ossietzky, Myanmar’s pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and Chinese rights activist Liu Xiaobo — were under arrest at the time of the award.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was given the Nobel Peace Prize thrice while its founder Henry Dunant won the first Peace Prize in 1901.

Linus Pauling has the distinction of being the only person to have been awarded two unshared Nobel Prizes — the 1954 Prize in Chemistry and the 1962 Peace Prize.

Why is Nobel Peace Prize given by Norway?

Since 1901, when Nobel Prizes were first given, Peace Prize has been awarded by a committee of five, appointed by the Norwegian Parliament Storting in accordance with Alfred Nobel’s will.

Alfred Nobel never disclosed why he didn’t give the task of awarding the Peace Prize to a Swedish body.

The reasons are speculative.

One argument is that Nobel admired Norwegian patriot and leading author Bjornstjerne Bjornson while another is that the Storting was the first national legislature to vote in support for the international peace movement.

Nobel may also have favoured distribution of the tasks related to the Nobel Prizes within the Swedish-Norwegian union or he may have feared that given the highly political nature of the Peace Prize, it might become a tool in power politics thus reducing its significance as an instrument for peace.

“It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be Scandinavian or not,” Nobel wrote in his will.

During the 20th century, eight Scandinavians have won the Peace Prize — five Swedes, two Norwegians and one Dane.

In the nomination and selection process, the committee has the assistance of a secretary and since the establishment of the Norwegian Nobel Institute in 1904, this person is also the institute’s director.

There have been several criticism and protests against decisions of the Norwegian Nobel Committee since 1901.

The selection process

The Peace Prize award ceremony on December 10 is the culmination of a long selection process.

According to rules, there can be a maximum of three Laureates in a category every year.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee begins the whole process by inviting nominations which can be submitted by February 1 each year.

Who are entitled to nominate candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize?

Present and past members of the Nobel Committee and advisers at the Nobel Institute; members of national assemblies and governments, and members of the Inter-Parliamentary Union; members of the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the International Court of Justice at the Hague and members of the Commission of the Permanent International Peace Bureau.

Besides them, members of the Institut de Droit International and present university professors of law, political science, history and philosophy; and holders of the Nobel Peace Prize can also nominate.

After reviewing their qualifications, a shortlist of the candidates is made.

The announcement of the Laureate’s name is often made on a Friday in mid-October at the Nobel Institute building and the award is presented annually on December 10, the day Alfred Nobel died in 1896.

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