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This week the winners of this year’s Nobel prizes are being announced.
This prestigious award recognizes the most notable advances in the fields of chemistry, physics, medicine, literature, in addition to highlighting the greatest contribution to peace around the world.
It is a tradition that complete 120 years (the first prizes were awarded in 1901) and it has awarded 930 people.
And of course, he has not been oblivious to incredible and curious stories.
For example, you have been voluntarily rejected by two people (Le Duc Tho and Jean Paul Sartre), but four others, forced by government regimes, had to decline the award. (Such was the case of the Germans Richard Kuhn, Adolf Butenandt and Gerhard Domagk and the Russian Boris Pasternak).
And also three times it was delivered posthumously.
One such occasion even occurred after it had been established, beginning in 1974, that a Nobel Prize would no longer be awarded to a person who had died prior to the announcement.
However, to be honest, when that award was announced, the Nobel Committee did not know that the laureate had passed away.
Who was it? We will tell you about it in this note from BBC Mundo.
The two posthumous Nobel laureates
The Nobel Prize is for most of the winners the culminating point of their lives: for example, for the physicist Peter Higgs, who together with other colleagues established the so-called Higgs mechanism. to explain the origin of the mass of elementary particles.
This theory was published in 1964, but it was not until 2013, shortly after his theory was tested in the Hadron Collider located on the border between Switzerland and France, that he received the Nobel Prize in Physics.
Some, however, have not been able to wait that long.
This is the case of the Swedes Dag Hammarskjöld and Erik Axel Karlfeldt, who received the award posthumously.
Karlfeldt is considered one of the great poets of the early 20th century in Sweden. Over the years, his poetry on customs and rural aspects had become very popular in his country.
That prestige led him to become, around the 1910s, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy of Letters, which is the entity that awards the Nobel Prize for Literature.
In fact, several reports indicate that the members of the committee had chosen him to receive the prestigious award in 1918, but that he rejected it because of his status as secretary of the Swedish Academy.
However, when he died in April 1931, his academic colleagues decided that that year the award would go to him, even though he had died a few months earlier.
Hammarskjöld’s case is a bit more dramatic: at the time of his death, in September 1961, he was the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
The Swedish diplomat had taken the reins of the UN in 1953, just eight years after its creation, in the midst of a postwar climate, reconstruction and the first breaths of the Cold War.
But his work at the head of the entity seeking the resolution of conflicts in a peaceful way led to him being re-elected to the head of the entity in 1957.
In September 1961 he traveled to the Congo to supervise the work of the Blue Helmets in the midst of the crisis. for the (internal) struggle for the independence of Belgium.
On the 12th of that month, the plane in which he and part of the UN team were traveling crashed near the city of Ndola, in Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia).
His death generated a great commotion around the world and for that reason the Nobel Peace Committee, which is based in Oslo, Norway, decided to award the award to Hammarskjöld.
But there was a striking precedent: In 1948, the year Mahatma Ghandi was assassinated, the same award was not given to the Indian leader posthumously according to the Nobel Committee because “there was no heir or entity that could receive the economic prize “.
In fact, the Nobel Peace Prize was not awarded that year.
Close the controversy
The truth is that, 13 years after the death of Hammarskjöld, the Nobel Foundation corrected its statutes and decided that the prize would not be awarded posthumously.
The rule states the following: “the work of a person who has died will not be considered”
The only exception allowed is for the recipient to pass away between the announcement (which occurs the first week of October) and the ceremony, which traditionally occurs between December 8-10.
However it was not always so. In 2011, the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Canadian scientist Ralph Steinman, for “His discovery of the dendritic cell and its role in adaptive immunity”.
In addition to Steinman, that year the American Bruce Beutler and the French Jules Alphonse Hoffmann received the award, also for work in the field of immunology.
However, when contacting Steinman to tell him that he was one of the award winners, the committee members realized that the Canadian had died three days before the announcement.
Should the award be taken away? Steinman’s death – due to pancreatic cancer – although it had been announced the same day the award was given, had occurred before the decision, which was against the statutes.
Nevertheless, it was decided to uphold the decision.
After several discussions, that same day the Prize Committee issued a statement in which it stated that “the events that have occurred are unique and, as far as we know, have no precedent in the history of the Nobel Prize.”
“According to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation, work produced by a person since death will not receive an award. However, the statutes specify that if a person has received an award and died before receiving, the award may be awarded. “the statement said.
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The two times that the Nobel Prize was awarded posthumously (and a third in which they did not know that the winner was dead) – BBC News Mundo