This is how Alfred Nobel decided to create the most prestigious awards in the world

The Swedish inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel ordered a year before his death in 1895 that 94% of his fortune be used to reward the most important contributions for the benefit of humanity. Nobel decided that the disciplines from which these contributions would come would be physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace.

Image of the first Nobel Prize ceremony

Nobel Prize Foundation

In June 1900, the Nobel Foundation was inaugurated by his laboratory partner and friend Ragnar Sohlman, who accompanied him in the last years of his life in San Remo. In 1901 the first Nobel prizes were awarded in these five disciplines; and in 1968, the Nobel Prize in Economics would be added, at the initiative of the Swedish Central Bank on its 300th anniversary.

On December 10, 2021, the award ceremony and the 120th anniversary of the Nobel prizes will be celebrated

The winners of these awards in 2021 will be announced between October 4 and 11, and the award ceremony will be held as every year on December 10. Like last year, the ceremony will be virtual, with few guests, and the prizes will be presented to the laureates in their countries of origin. It will be the 120th anniversary of the prizes promoted by Nobel.

Nobel was an enthusiast of scientific knowledge, necessary for the development of technological and medical solutions. Physics and chemistry laid the foundations for industrial engineering in its time, from which it derived most of its wealth. He patented inventions such as dynamite and founded companies and factories. The bulk of its business activity was dedicated to the production of explosives and its related industries: arms, construction and mining.

Detail of the medal that is given, together with a diploma and an economic prize, to each Nobel Prize laureate

Detail of the medal that is given, together with a diploma and an economic prize, to each Nobel Prize laureate

Nobel Prize Foundation

Medicine, in turn, was an area that interested the Swedish tycoon. Synergies with physics and chemistry were beginning to be appreciated, as well as being a field in which to develop instrumentation and inventions, as stated in his relationship with Dr. Sten von Hofsten, according to the Nobel Foundation.

In the first ceremony, the discovery of X-rays, osmosis and serum therapy were awarded

On December 10, 1901, the first Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to Emil Behring, inventor of diphtheria antitoxin serum therapy; that of physics to Wilhem Röntgen for the discovery of X-rays; and the chemistry award to Jacobus van’t Hoff for unraveling the laws of chemical dynamics and osmosis.

Alfred Nobel also made it clear in his will to which institutions he would entrust the proposal and selection of the candidates for the awards bearing his surname. It would be the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences who would be in charge of deciding the prizes for physics and chemistry, and the Nobel Assembly of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm those for medicine.

Alfred Nobel decided that the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm would propose and select the winners of Medicine

The choice of this institute, which was going through a crisis at the end of the 19th century, is based on the centre’s approach to learning medicine, and on the relationships that Nobel had with the institution in previous years, specifically with one of its researchers , Johan Erik Johansson, with whom he investigated the therapeutic feasibility of blood transfusions.

According to an article by the Nobel Foundation, the Karolinska Institute was created in 1801 with a practical study approach to medicine, focused on the chemistry of living beings and anatomy. At that time, in other medical schools a theological approach to medicine was addressed, where sickness could be related to sin.

Friendship with Bertha Von Suttner influenced Nobel to dedicate a peace prize

Literature was another of the Swedish businessman’s passions. He wrote two novels, three books of poetry and a play of which only three copies remain, the rest were burned by his family, due to their anti-clerical content. The first Nobel Prize in literature, awarded by the Swedish Academy, was awarded to the French poet Sully Prudhomme.

As for the Peace Prize, although his family of origin enjoyed a bourgeois life for the benefits of his father’s work in the arms industry, he was influenced by his secretary, friend and peace activist, Bertha Von Suttner. This pacifist would be the second woman to receive a Nobel Prize, the Peace Prize in 1905, after Marie Curie won the Physics Prize in 1903.

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This is how Alfred Nobel decided to create the most prestigious awards in the world