x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

The instant expert: Nobel Prizes

This week Rick Arthur looks at the history of the Nobel Prizes, first given on this day in 1901.

Float through any social event with M's fast facts. This week Rick Arthur looks at the mostly marvellous history of the Nobel Prizes, which were first given on this day in 1901.


THE BASICS, PART TWO Heh-heh-heh. Got your attention, didn't we? The point is, unless you're a sandwich short of a picnic, you know that the Nobel Prizes were established in the will of the inventor of dynamite, the wealthy Swedish chemist and arms manufacturer Alfred Bernhard Nobel. He became concerned about how he would be remembered when a French newspaper confused him with his brother Ludvig and said in an 1888 obituary that the man "who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before" had died.

THE FUNDING Nobel left an astonishing 94 per cent of his assets - 31 million kronor, or some US$186mn or Dh683mn in today's currency valuations - to establish the five prizes, in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace. He died in 1896. The Nobel Foundation finally was set up in 1900 and the first prizes were awarded 110 years ago today, five years to the day after Nobel's death.

THE TWO SITES The Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo while the other prizes are awarded in Stockholm. Why? Norway and Sweden were still united under one monarch when the prizes were established, and Nobel in his will chose bodies in each state to select the winners.

A KEY FACTOR Early on, the prizes recognised discoveries made "during the preceding year". But after several embarrassments as findings were disproved, the awards have come to recognise discoveries that have withstood the test of time. For the Literature and Peace prizes especially, that means a lifetime body of work often gets the nod.

ANOTHER KEY FACTOR There have been a handful of exceptions - including this year when one of the laureates in Medicine died three days before the awards were announced - but the prizes are not given posthumously.

SOME ILLUSTRIOUS LAUREATES IN PHYSICS How's this for a stellar start? Pierre and Marie Curie (1903), Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck (1918), Albert Einstein (1921), Niels Henrik David Bohr (1922) and Enrico Fermi (1938). The Instant Expert has a headache.

SOME ILLUSTRIOUS LAUREATES IN CHEMISTRY The multi-talented Marie Curie (1911), Linus Carl Pauling (1954) and Ahmed H Zewail (1989).

SOME ILLUSTRIOUS LAUREATES IN MEDICINE The Instant Expert is out of his element here - he's a word guy - but he does remember from his schoolboy biology Francis Harry Compton Crick, James Dewey Watson and Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins (1962). They traced the double helix of DNA. We think.

SOME ILLUSTRIOUS LAUREATES IN LITERATURE Where to begin? Let's try these: Rudyard Kipling (1907), Rabindranath Tagore (1913), William Butler Yeats (1923), George Bernard Shaw (1925), Thomas Mann (1929), Eugene Gladstone O'Neill (1936), William Faulkner (1949), Sir Winston Churchill (1953), Ernest Miller Hemingway (1954), Albert Camus (1957), John Steinbeck (1962), Gabriel García Márquez (1982), Naguib Mahfouz (1988), Nadine Gordimer (1991), Toni Morrison (1993) and Orhan Pamuk (2006).

SOME ILLUSTRIOUS LAUREATES IN PEACE Who can argue with the International Committee of the Red Cross (1917, 1944 and 1963), Unicef (1965), Amnesty International (1977) and Médecins Sans Frontières (1999)?

FOR SHAME Mahatma Gandhi was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, although he was nominated 12 times between 1937 and 1948.

The curse of the Nobel Peace Prize

Of the 99 human Nobel Peace Prize laureates (23 organisations have won), many have faded into obscurity, seen their images tarnished or been assassinated. For example:

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR (1964) US civil rights leader was assassinated in 1968.

ANWAR SADAT (1978) Egyptian president was assassinated the next year.

MOTHER TERESA (1979) Her published letters show that the saintly and revered Roman Catholic nun suffered from long periods of religious doubt and spiritual emptiness.

MIKHAIL GORBACHEV (1990) His Soviet Union collapsed just after his win.

YITZHAK RABIN (1994) Israeli prime minister was assassinated in 1995.

DAVID TRIMBLE (1998) Northern Ireland leader's political career has sunk.

KIM DAE-JUNG (2000) South Korean leader's efforts at reconciliation with North have not borne fruit.

KOFI ANNAN (2001) "Oil-for-food" scandal ruined UN leader's reputation.