For yet another year, the announcement of the Nobel Prize winners has generated excitement around the world. These awards are presented by the Alfred Nobel Foundation, created at the end of the 19th century by the Swedish philanthropist, and are considered the most prestigious in the world in the world of science (physics, chemistry and medicine), literature and peace initiatives .
The winners were announced over the past week and the award ceremony will take place in Sweden on December 10, the date of Alfred Nobel’s death.
This year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine has recognized the work of the Americans David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian, who have studied how our body’s receptors work to perceive touch and changes in temperature. These receptors are what translate physical sensations into electrical stimuli for the brain to detect.
The Nobel Prize in Physics has been divided between two projects. On the one hand, it recognizes the study of the Italian Giorgio Parisi on complex systems and how they work, which allows predicting certain rules and behavior patterns in systems as complex as the climate, which are conditioned by multiple factors. On the other hand, the Japanese Syukuro Manabe and the German Klaus Hasselmann have been awarded for their contribution to the creation of climate models; His work has made it possible to link CO2 emissions with global warming, for example.
The German scientist Benjamin List and the Scottish David MacMillan have received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery and development of asymmetric organocatalysis, a method that makes it easier to reproduce asymmetric molecules, widely used in the pharmaceutical industry to create medicines.
The writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, originally from the island of Zanzibar, has become the new Nobel Prize for Literature. Gurnah came to the UK as a refugee when she was 18 years old and in her work she talks about the effects of colonialism and how refugees must rebuild their lives across different cultures and continents.
The last prize to be announced has been the Nobel Peace Prize, which this year has wanted to value freedom of expression and has awarded two journalists: the Filipino María Ressa and the Russian Dmitry Muratov. The jury has valued Ressa’s work in denouncing the abuse of power in the Philippines and the track record of Muratov, who has spent decades fighting the media repression of the Putin regime.
Controversy at the Nobel
Alfred Nobel became rich as the inventor of dynamite and made a lot of money from the weapons of war business. Even so, Nobel considered himself a pacifist, so shortly before his death he allocated part of his fortune to create prizes that would reward those discoveries that “benefit all of humanity.”
The origin of the Nobel is not the only controversy surrounding these awards, which have also been highly criticized for gender discrimination in both nominations and winners. Of the 962 awards given up to 2020, only 57 were for women: this represents less than 6% of the awards.
Another of the awards that generates more controversy is the Peace Nobel. As Alfred Nobel himself wrote, the award should go to “a person who has done a great job in favor of brotherhood between countries, the abolition or reduction of armies and to promote peace negotiations.”
Sometimes it has been considered that the recipient did not deserve it, as is the case of Barack Obama, who received the award in 2009 while he was still the president of the United States. The pacifist organizations criticized that, far from promoting peace, Obama had ordered more troops to be sent to Afghanistan during his term.
Another of the most controversial cases was that of the Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. At that time he was under house arrest because, despite winning the elections legally, a military junta had carried out a coup. Suu Kyi spent 15 years unable to leave her home and became a symbol of democracy.
Years later, once released, Suu Kyi won the elections again and became Prime Minister of Burma in 2015. However, in 2017 the Burmese government launched a campaign of persecution against the Rohingya ethnic group and Suu Kyi has been widely criticized by his passivity in the face of this crisis. Since February, the Burmese leader has once again been imprisoned by the military junta.
120 years of Nobel Prize winners
The Swedish businessman Alfred Nobel (1833-1896), engineer and chemist, was also the inventor of gunpowder. This discovery made him immensely wealthy and, shortly before his death, he decided to use part of his fortune to create awards that recognize the work of people whose discoveries have benefited all of humanity.
Thus, in 1895 the Nobel Foundation was created and in 1901 the first delivery of the Nobel Prizes was held, which already included the five current categories: chemistry, physics, medicine, literature and peace. Since then, 603 Nobel prizes have been awarded to a total of 962 people, because the same award can recognize the work of several people.
The award consists of a diploma, a medal and a financial award, but these awards also value the prestige they grant. Among the most popular personalities who have received these awards are Albert Einstein (Nobel Prize in Physics, 1921), Martin Luther King (Nobel Peace Prize, 1964) Rudyard Kipling (Nobel Prize in Literature, 1907) or Marie Curie, who received two awards, that of Physics (1903) and that of Chemistry (1911).
The youngest recipient today is Malala Yousafzai, who in 2014 received the Nobel Peace Prize when she was only 17 years old. On the opposite side, in 2019 John B. Goodenough was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry at the age of 97.
Only two personalities decided to decline the award: the French writer Jean-Paul Sartre and the Vietnamese politician Le Duc Tho. On the other hand, in the history of the awards, several winners have been forced to renounce them, forced by the government of their country, or were deprived of liberty when they received it.
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The new Nobel Laureates