annual monetary awards granted to individuals or institutions for outstanding
contributions in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine,
literature, international peace, and economic sciences. The Nobel prizes are
internationally recognized as the most prestigious awards in each of these
fields. The prizes were established by Swedish inventor and industrialist Alfred
Bernhard Nobel, who set up a fund for them in his will. The first Nobel prizes
were awarded on December 10, 1901, the fifth anniversary of Nobel's death.
his will, Nobel directed that most of his fortune be invested to form a fund,
the interest of which was to be distributed annually "in the form of prizes
to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest
benefit on mankind." He stipulated that the interest be divided into five
equal parts, each to be awarded to the person who made the most important
contribution in one of five different fields. In addition to the three
scientific awards and the literature award, a prize would go to the person who
had done "the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the
abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of
peace congresses." Nobel also specified certain institutions that would
select the prizewinners. The will indicated that "no consideration whatever
shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy
shall receive the prize."
1968 the Riksbank, the central bank of Sweden, created an economics prize to
commemorate the bank's 300th anniversary. This prize, called the Nobel Memorial
Prize in Economic Science, was first awarded in 1969. The bank provides a cash
award equal to the other Nobel prizes.
1900 the Nobel Foundation was established to manage the fund and to administer
the activities of the institutions charged with selecting winners. The fund is
controlled by a board of directors, which serves for two-year periods and
consists of six members: five elected by the trustees of the awarding bodies
mentioned in the will, and the sixth appointed by the Swedish government. All
six members are either Swedish or Norwegian citizens.
In his will, Nobel stated that the prizes
for physics and chemistry would be awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences,
the prize for physiology or medicine by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm,
the literature prize by the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, and the peace prize by
a five-person committee elected by the Norwegian Storting (Parliament). After
the economics prize was created in 1968, the Swedish Academy of Sciences has
held the responsibility of selecting the winners of that award.
All the prize-awarding bodies have set up
Nobel committees consisting of three to five people who make recommendations in
the selection process. Additional specialists with expertise in relevant fields
assist the committees. The Nobel committees examine nominations and make
recommendations to the prize-awarding institutions. After deliberating various
opinions and recommendations, the prize-awarding bodies vote on the final
selection, and then they announce the winner. The deliberations and voting are
secret, and prize decisions cannot be appealed.
prize for achievement in a particular field may be awarded to an individual,
divided equally between two people, or awarded jointly among two or three
people. According to the Nobel Foundation's statutes, the prize cannot be
divided among more than three people, but it can go to an institution. A prize
may go unawarded if no candidate is chosen for the year under consideration, but
each of the prizes must be awarded at least once every five years. If the Nobel
Foundation does not award a prize in a given year, the prize money remains in
the trust. Likewise, if a prize is declined or not accepted before a specified
date, the Nobel Foundation retains the prize money in its trust.
The prize amounts are based on the annual
yield of the fund capital. In 1948 Nobel prizes were about $32,000 each; in 1997
they were about $1 million each. In addition to a cash award, each prizewinner
also receives a gold medal and a diploma bearing the winner's name and field of
achievement. Prizewinners are known as Nobel laureates.
of candidates for the prizes can be made only by those who have received
invitations to do so. In the fall of the year preceding the award, Nobel
committees distribute invitations to members of the prize-awarding bodies, to
previous Nobel prize winners, and to professors in relevant fields at certain
colleges and universities. In addition, candidates for the prize in literature
may be proposed by invited members of various literary academies, institutions,
and societies. Upon invitation, members of governments or certain international
organizations may nominate candidates for the peace prize. The Nobel
Foundation's statutes do not allow individuals to nominate themselves.
Invitations to nominate candidates and the nominations themselves are both
Nominations of candidates are due on
February 1 of the award year. Then, Nobel committee members and consultants meet
several times to evaluate the qualifications of the nominees. The various
committees cast their final votes in October and immediately notify the
laureates that they have won.
prizes are presented annually at ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden, and in Oslo,
Norway, on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death. In Stockholm, the king
of Sweden presents the awards in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine,
literature, and economic sciences. The peace prize ceremony takes place at the
University of Oslo in the presence of the king of Norway. After the ceremonies,
Nobel Prize winners give a lecture on a subject connected with their
prize-winning work. The winner of the peace prize lectures in Oslo, the others
in Stockholm. The lectures are later printed in the Nobel Foundation's annual
publication, Les Prix Nobel (The Nobel Prizes).