Nobel Prize

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Alfred Nobel (1833–1896), founder of the Nobel Prize
The Stockholm Konzerthaus on Heumarkt ( Hötorget ), where the ceremonial presentation of all prizes with the exception of the Peace Prize takes place.
The Oslo City Hall , where the Nobel Peace Prize will be presented.

The Nobel Prize [ noˈbɛl- ] has been awarded annually since 1901 and is donated by the Swedish inventor and industrialist Alfred Nobel (1833–1896). In his will he stipulated that a foundation should be set up with his assets , the interest of which "will be given as a prize to those who have made the greatest use of humanity in the past year". The money should be divided into five equal parts in the fields of physics , chemistry , physiology or medicine , literature and for peace efforts . The Nobel Foundation was established on June 29, 1900, four years after the death of Alfred Nobel, and the first prizes were awarded in 1901. The Nobel Prize is now considered the highest distinction in the disciplines considered and is awarded every year on the anniversary of Nobel's death, December 10th. The Nobel Peace Prize will be presented in Oslo , all other prizes in Stockholm .

Since 1968 there has also been the Alfred Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics , which the Swedish Reichsbank donated on the 300th anniversary of its existence. It is awarded together with the Nobel Prizes, has the same endowment and is subject to similar award criteria. As a result, it is often referred to as the Nobel Prize in Economics and perceived as a Nobel Prize like the others.

Price categories

category Award criterion and awarding institution
Nobel Price for physics Awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to "the one who has made the most important discovery or invention in the field of physics".
Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to "the one who has made the most important chemical discovery or improvement".
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine Awarded by the Nobel Assembly of the Karolinska Institute to "the one who made the most important discovery in the domain of physiology or medicine".
Nobel Prize in literature Awarded by the Swedish Academy to "those who have produced the most outstanding in literature in an idealistic direction".
Nobel Peace Prize Awarded by the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee , elected by the Norwegian Parliament, "to those who have worked most or best on fraternizing peoples and the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and holding or promoting peace congresses".
Alfred Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences ( Swedish Sveriges Riksbanks pris i ekonomisk Vetenskap till Alfred Nobels minne ) is often called Wirtschaftsnobelpreis called, but does not go back to the Nobels Testament. It was donated in 1968 by the Swedish Reichsbank on the occasion of its 300th anniversary. It is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on the same principles as the Nobel Prizes and presented in the same ceremony. However, it is disputed whether the award is rightly named in line with the other Nobel Prizes.

Alfred Nobel's will

Nobel's Testament of November 27, 1895 (front)

Alfred Nobel wrote several wills, the last one on November 27, 1895, which he signed at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris .

In it, he gives numerous relatives and other people around him donations from his 31 million Swedish kronor assets, for example as a lifelong pension. For the remainder of his fortune, about 94% of its total value, he decreed the establishment of an award in the categories of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine and literature. In addition, each year someone should be honored who has worked especially for the fraternization of peoples, the abolition or reduction of armies and peace.

Motivation and inspiration for the foundation of the award

The will itself does not explain why Alfred Nobel wanted such a prize to be set up. There are also few other direct statements made by him about the price. According to the witnesses at the signing of the will, Nobel is said to have said that he wanted to reward scientists because they often face economic headwinds.

Nobel once said

"I am particularly of the opinion that great inherited fortunes are misfortunes which only lead the human race in apathy."

- Alfred Nobel

His decision to use his assets for foundation purposes had evidently matured over a longer period of time. In contrast, it is often claimed that Alfred Nobel donated the award because of a bad conscience, because his inventions were used for the war and he was the owner of armaments companies. Against this, however, is the fact that, with the exception of ballistite, none of Nobel's developments were used in the war during his lifetime. In this context, the story is often quoted that in 1888, long before Alfred Nobel died, a French newspaper published an obituary for him with the title “Le marchand de la mort est mort” (“The merchant of death is dead”) who described Nobel as a man "who got rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before." In fact, Alfred Nobel's brother Ludvig Nobel had died and the newspaper had confused him. Alfred Nobel is said to have been appalled by the characterization of his person. It is not known exactly to what extent the foundation of the award was supported by this, as there are other statements by him.

To Bertha von Suttner , who was to become one of the first winners of the Nobel Peace Prize , he said:

"Perhaps my factories will end the wars faster than your peace congresses, because if two armies of equal strength can destroy each other in a second, all civilized nations will shrink from it and disband their troops."

- Alfred Nobel

He took this position several times. In this respect, Bertha von Suttner's attempts to win him over to peace work were successful because he became a member of the Austrian Peace Association and donated money for peace purposes. He even hired the Turkish diplomat Aristarchi Bey as an assistant for a few years to get information from him on peace issues. From this point of view, too, it is not surprising that he wanted to give part of the award to peace efforts.

Extract from the will

Alfred Nobel's will of November 27, 1895 (first page)
Alfred Nobel's will of November 27, 1895 (last page)

The original Swedish text with a translation of the decisive excerpt from the will reads:

”Jag undertecknad Alfred Bernhard Nobel förklarar härmed efter moget övervägande min yttersta vilja i afseende å den egendom hag vid min död kan efterlemna vara följande:

Öfver hela min återstående realiserbara förmögenhet förfares på följande sätt: Capital of utredningsmännen realiseradt till säkra värdepapper skall utgöra en fond, hvars ränta årligen utdelas som prisbelöning åt the next time under the notice. Räntan delas i fem lika delar som tillfalla: en del till den som inom fysikens område har gjort den vigtigaste upptäckt eller uppfinning; en del den som har gjort den vigtigaste kemiska upptäckt eller förbättring; en del den som har gjort den vigtigaste upptäckt inom fysiologiens eller medicinens domän; en del som inom literature har produceradt det utmärktaste i idealisk rigtning; Also at the end of the day, the best for Folkens förbrödrande and avskaffande or minskning of stående arméer together with pictures and spridande of fredskongresser. Awards for physics och kemi utdelas av Svenska Vetenskapsakademien; for physiologies and medicinska work av Carolinska Institutet i Stockholm; for literature from the academies in Stockholm, including for fredsförfäktare af ett utskott af fem personer som väljas af Norska Stortinget. Det är min uttryckliga vilja att vid prisutdelningarna intet afseende fästes vid någon slags nationstillhörighet sålunda att the värdigaste recipient priset antingen han är scandinav eller ej. "

"I, Alfred Bernhard Nobel, after careful consideration, hereby declare my will with regard to my property, which I can leave behind after my death, as follows:

My remaining realizable assets are to be dealt with in the following way: the capital that has been converted into safe securities by the estate administrators is to form a fund, the interest of which is to be distributed annually as a prize to those who will benefit most of the past year to mankind have provided. The interest is divided into five equal parts: a part to the person who made the most important discovery or invention in the field of physics; part of whoever made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; part of whoever made the most important discovery in the domain of physiology or medicine; a part of those who have produced the most outstanding things in literature in an idealistic direction; and a part of those who worked most or best of all to fraternize peoples and to abolish or reduce standing armies and to hold or promote peace congresses. The physics and chemistry prizes are awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; for physiological or medical work from the Carolinska Institute in Stockholm; for literature from the Academy in Stockholm and for peace advocates from a committee of five, elected by the Norwegian Storting. It is my express will that the awarding of the award is not based on any nationality, so that the most worthy receives the award, whether he is Scandinavian or not. "

- Alfred Nobel : Testament of November 27, 1895

This is the only written statement from Nobel himself about the award. Neither about his motivation to donate the award nor about the many organizational details that are necessary for awarding the award, there are no further explanations.

Therefore, the design of the prize was largely left to the estate administrators, today in the form of the Nobel Foundation.


Oscar II of Sweden was initially skeptical about the price, but handed it over from 1902.

At the beginning, Alfred Nobel's decision was by no means undisputed. His relatives questioned the will, and the public also criticized the idea of ​​the prize. There was also criticism from the then King Oskar II . For one thing, he was of the opinion that such a large amount of money should not be given to foreigners, so that he did not like the explicit rule not to give preference to Scandinavians. On the other hand, the award of the peace prize by a Norwegian institution was generally a sensitive issue, as the later dissolution of the Swedish-Norwegian union was already becoming apparent.

In some cases, great importance was attached to the price early on. On January 2, 1897, Nobel's will became known, and on January 4, the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet wrote :

”De årligen återkommande taflingarna om Alfred Nobels pris skola blifva ett slags årligen återkommande vårt århundrades Höga cultural stand point fullt värdiga olympiska spel, hvilka comma att i sigla allt det ypperstae afklig ot different production of each person stråla vidt omkring den civiliserade världen. ”

“The annually recurring competitions for the Alfred Nobels Prize will be a kind of annually recurring Olympic Games that are fully worthy of the culturally high level of our century, which will collect in the mind the utmost human production, and where the golden wreath of every lucky winner far out into the civilized world will shine. "

- Svenska Dagbladet, article on the Nobel Prize of January 4, 1897

The will was recognized by Nobel's heirs on June 5, 1898, which enabled the establishment of the Nobel Foundation in 1900.

Choice of categories

It is not known why Nobel chose these five categories in his will.

For example, there is no Nobel Prize for Economics , even if the Alfred Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics is usually referred to as such. As a scientist, Nobel was no friend of the “soft humanities”. Instead, with the prizes for medicine, chemistry and physics, he concentrated on subject areas whose achievements can be objectified. His aversion to economics can be seen in a letter that four great-grandchildren of his brother Ludvig published in 2001. In it Alfred Nobel writes: “I have no business education and I hate it from the bottom of my heart.” Accordingly, Nobel's descendants urged the Swedish Academy of Sciences to award the “Prize for Economics of the Swedish Reichsbank in memory of Alfred Nobel, which was only subsequently donated by the Swedish National Bank in 1968 “To be treated separately from the Nobel Prizes, to date without success.

Likewise, there is no Nobel Prize in Mathematics (see the Comparable Prizes section below ). One can only speculate about the reasons. It was seen as a possible cause that the practitioner Nobel never particularly liked this “auxiliary science”; for him it was probably not one of the categories that advance humanity. An anecdote says that Alfred Nobel was once rejected by his admirer in favor of a mathematics professor - there is some mention of Magnus Gösta Mittag-Leffler - and that Nobel, in bitterness, subsequently deleted a planned mathematics prize from the will. However, this is not historically proven. It is similar with the claim that Alfred Nobel was allegedly betrayed by his wife with a mathematician. However, this cannot be because he was never married. A later offer by the Nobel Committee to set up a Nobel Prize for Mathematics was rejected by leading mathematicians, presumably in order not to further increase competition among scientists.

His commitment to literature and peace, both areas apart from the exact sciences, probably goes back to a suggestion of his long-time pen friend, peace activist and pacifist Bertha von Suttner .

Second award location Oslo

It is not known what motivated Alfred Nobel from Sweden to assign a committee of the Norwegian parliament ( Storting ) the task of selecting the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. At the time the prize was established, Norway and Sweden were still linked in a personal union under Swedish leadership, and foreign policy was the responsibility of the Swedish Reichstag. In 1905 the union dissolved and Norway became an independent kingdom.

Nobel Foundation

The logo of the Nobel Foundation

The Nobel Foundation was set up by the executors of the will, Rudolf Lilljequist and Ragnar Sohlman (Nobel's last assistant), as the central institution for the Nobel Prize . Establishing the foundation was not without its difficulties. The will was formulated unclearly on some points, which caused legal problems. The preparations for the establishment of the foundation took a total of five years. Sohlman in particular was responsible for selling company shares and other possessions of Nobel. At the time of his death, Nobel had registered 355 patents and built 100 factories in 20 countries. The assets of the Foundation finally was 31 million Swedish crowns and grew up in 2006 to 3.6 billion crowns.

The Nobel Foundation is headed by six directors and takes on in particular the administration of the Nobel Prize and the organization of the festivities. It also organizes symposia on scientific topics.

The statutes were established by a decree of the king when the foundation was established on June 29, 1900. They may be changed, but only at the suggestion of one of the award committees or a member of the Foundation Board. The Royal Science Academy has two votes and the other institutions one vote each.

Since Nobel's will lays down only a few details of the award procedure, the foundation's statutes are authoritative in many respects. This includes, among other things, the obligation of confidentiality for 50 years, the restriction to three award winners per category and the ban on awarding the prize to the deceased.

The Nobel Foundation received the first Balzan Prize in 1961 . a. distinguished scientists.

Foundation assets and costs

Today 50 percent of the capital of the Nobel Foundation is invested in stocks, 20 percent interest-bearing paper and 30 percent in other forms of investment (e.g. real estate or hedge funds). The proportion of each of these three parts can be varied by ten percent. At the beginning of 2008, 64 percent of the company's assets were mainly invested in American and European stocks. Twenty percent was in fixed income, twelve percent went to real estate and hedge funds .

Since the financial crisis in 2007 , the foundation's assets have decreased considerably. In 2007 it was 3.6 billion Swedish kronor (approx. 380 million euros), but in 2008 it fell to around 3.4 billion kroner (at the time around 315 million euros). At the end of 2011, the foundation's assets were just under 3 billion crowns (almost 350 million euros), which meant a loss of 178 million crowns compared to the previous year. Because of the decline in capital, the prize money was reduced for the first time since 1949 in 2012 (see also the section on prize money ).

In 2011 the cost was around 120 million crowns. 50 million crowns were the prize money. The additional costs for the prizes and the compensation for the institutions and persons involved in the award amounted to 27.4 million crowns. The events during Nobel Week in Stockholm and Oslo cost 20.2 million crowns. The administration, Nobel symposia and the like cost around 22.4 million crowns. The cost of the business price is borne by the Reichsbank and amounted to 16.5 million crowns.

Les Prix Nobel

Since 1901, the Nobel Foundation has published the Les Prix Nobel yearbook series, in which reports on the award ceremony, biographies of the award winners and their Nobel lectures are published. It appears every October for the previous year. Until 1988, the texts were in the language in which the respective Nobel lecture etc. had been given. Since then the texts have been mainly in English. The publication did not appear in 2011. It has been published under the English title The Nobel Prizes since 2012 .

Price range

All award winners receive a certificate, a gold medal and an amount of money.

Prize money

Since 2017, the prize money is 9 million Swedish crowns (about 871,000 euros) per category. From 2001 to 2011 the prize money was 10 million Swedish kronor (approx. 968,000 euros) per category and from 2012 to 2016 it was reduced to 8 million Swedish kroner (approx. 774,000 euros) per category.

Alfred Nobel stipulated that his assets should be invested in “safe securities” by trustees and that the interest income should be divided equally between the Nobel Prizes. The statutes of the Nobel Foundation also stipulate that at least 60 percent of the proceeds must be distributed as a prize.

If more than one person is recognized, the prize will not necessarily be given in equal parts to the winners. If there are two winners, the prize money is usually divided equally. If there are three winners, the prize will either be divided into three equal parts, or one of the winners will receive half of the money while the other two will share the other half.

The latter is often due to the fact that a maximum of two achievements may be awarded. In 2005, for example, the physics award was divided into two parts that rewarded two different achievements. Part, and thus half, of the prize money went to Roy J. Glauber . The other part was awarded to John Lewis Hall and Theodor Hänsch , who each received a quarter of the prize money. But even if only one achievement is awarded, the money can be distributed according to this pattern, e.g. B. in 2011, when Saul Perlmutter received half of the physics award while Brian P. Schmidt and Adam Riess shared the other half.

Since the interest income of the foundation's assets fluctuates, there have also been declines in the prize money in the past. In the beginning, the money was largely invested in government bonds, which gradually yielded less and less money. For many years the absolute value of the price remained roughly the same, so that the real value of money fell due to inflation . Over time, however, the regulations made by the Swedish state were also relaxed. In 1946 the Nobel Foundation was exempt from tax. In 1953 the Nobel Foundation liberalized its investment rules, which enabled the foundation's assets to be increased. Since then, the foundation has essentially invested the money in what appears to be the most profitable. In 1969, the Swedish Reichsbank founded the business award, which is always as high as the Nobel Prize. The expenses for this price are financed entirely by the Swedish Reichsbank.

In 1901, each of the individual prize categories was endowed with 150,800 Swedish kronor , which would correspond to today's value of 7 million kroner. Until 1955, the price sum remained below 200,000 kroner and reached its low point in 1923 if one considers the inflation-adjusted purchase value. The real purchase value of the price sank at times to about 2 million crowns. The price had its lowest absolute value in 1919, when it was only endowed with 133,127 crowns. Between 1953 and 2001 the price allocation was increased several times. In 1991 the prize money had a higher real value for the first time than when the prize was first awarded in 1901. The price reached its peak in absolute purchasing power in 2001. The price was constant from 2001 to 2011, so that the real value of the price fell due to inflation. Since most of the winners come from abroad, the fluctuating exchange rate of the krona also plays a role. In 2012, the endowment of the prize was reduced for the first time since 1949 in order to secure the foundation's capital in the long term.

Today, the wealth of the Nobel Foundation is well above Nobel's wealth. At the end of 2011 it was 2.97 billion crowns, while Nobel's legacy of 31 million crowns would correspond to a current purchase value of around 1.65 billion crowns. 71 percent of the money is invested abroad, 29 percent in Sweden. 53 percent of the money is in stocks. The Nobel Foundation spends three to four percent of its income. The value of the foundation's assets has risen and peaked in 1999 when it amounted to 3.94 billion crowns, which, adjusted for inflation, was 279% of the original capital of 1901.


Medal of the Nobel Peace Prize, which Norman Angell received in 1933.

The statutes of the Nobel Foundation stipulate that the award winners receive “a gold medal bearing an image of the writer of the will and an appropriate inscription”. Furthermore, the winners have the opportunity to order three gold-plated bronze medals.

The Nobel Prize medals for physics, chemistry, medicine and literature were designed by the Swedish sculptor and engraver Erik Lindberg , while the Peace Prize medal was designed by the Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland . In the case of the latter, Lindberg also took over the transfer of the design to the medals.

On the front of the medals created by Lindberg are engraved a portrait of Alfred Nobel as well as his name, date of birth and death (in Roman numerals). The back differs depending on the category, with physics and chemistry having the same motif. The full name of the award winner is also engraved there. When the first prize was awarded in 1901, the design of the medals was not quite finished, so that the medals did not have their present appearance until 1902.

The front of the medal for the Peace Prize shows a slightly different image, but the elements portrait, name, date of birth and death are also included.

The medal for the business award is different from all others. It was designed by Gunvor Svensson-Lundqvist and contains on the front the symbol of the academy of science, a portrait of Alfred Nobel and the inscription Sveriges Riksbank till Alfred Nobels Minne 1968 ("The Swedish Reichsbank in memory of Alfred Nobel 1968"). The name of the award winner is embossed on the edge so that it is not immediately apparent. In 1975 this led to problems for Leonid Witaljewitsch Kantorowitsch and Tjalling Koopmans . Their medals were mixed up and the award winners went home with the wrong medal. Only four years later could the medals be exchanged after diplomatic efforts.

The medals awarded in Sweden were minted from 1902 to 2010 in Myntverket in Eskilstuna , the medal awarded in Norway by Den Kongelige Mynt in Kongsberg .

Myntverket, which it claims to have been founded in 995 and owned by the Finnish mint Rahapaja Oy since 2002, was closed in 2011. The minting of Swedish money had already been relocated abroad, but Myntverket was not working profitably with the remaining six employees, so operations were discontinued by resolution of the parent company. As a result, Sweden lost the last minting institution, which made the further production of Nobel medals in Sweden impossible. The Nobel Foundation saw the Norwegian mint as obvious and had the coins minted there for 2011. Svensk Medalj AB, which has been in existence since 1972 and is also based in Eskilstuna, bought the machines for making medals from Myntverket. This company has been making the medals since 2012.

The medals made in Sweden from 2012 have a material value of approximately 65,000 Swedish crowns (approx. 7,500 euros), weigh 175 grams and are made of 18-carat gold . The medal for the business award is a little heavier at 185 grams. Until 1980 the medals were made of 23-carat gold.

The medals of the Physics Nobel Prize winners Max von Laue (1914), James Franck (1925) and Niels Bohr (1922) have a special history. Bohr had received the medals from Franck and Laue, who were exposed to political persecution by the Nazis, for safekeeping so that they would not be confiscated by the German authorities. Bohr and the Danish doctor August Krogh put their medals up for auction in March 1940 in aid of a fund in support of Finland, where they were purchased by an anonymous buyer. When the Germans invaded Denmark, Bohr did not want to let Franck's and von Laue's medals fall into the hands of the Nazis. The Hungarian chemist George de Hevesy , who was working in Bohr's laboratory at the time, suggested that Bohr bury the medals, which Bohr did not want because they could be excavated. Ultimately they dissolved the medals in aqua regia when the Germans marched into Copenhagen . Indeed, the Nazis searched Bohr's laboratory but could not find anything. After the war, Bohr sent the decomposed gold of the medals to Stockholm, where the Nobel Foundation had new medals produced for Franck and von Laue. Bohr's medal was given to the Historical Museum in Frederiksborg by its buyer and is on display there today.


Nobel Prize Certificate Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, drawn up by Sofia Gisberg, 1901

The design of the certificates is determined by the awarding bodies. Each certificate is specially made for the laureate by an artist and a calligrapher.

Nomination and selection

To be eligible for a Nobel Prize, one must be nominated, although not everyone has the right to nominate. The relevant provisions are set out in the statutes of the Nobel Foundation and may be specified by the institutions involved in selecting the award winners. They apply analogously to the business price.

Only living persons can be nominated. Until 1974 it was possible to award the Nobel Prize to a person who died after the nomination deadline (end of January). So were Erik Axel Karlfeldt 1931, UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold honored posthumously 1,961th Mahatma Gandhi, on the other hand, was shot before the cut-off date in 1948, which is why he was unable to receive the award. There was also no successor organization that could have been honored in its place. In 1948 the Nobel Peace Prize was ultimately not awarded because there was “no suitable living candidate”. In 1974 the statutes were changed so that a person can only be honored posthumously if they die between the announcement (October) and the award (December 10th), as happened in 1996 in the case of William Vickrey . In 2011, immunologist Ralph M. Steinman died three days before it was announced that he would receive the Physiology or Medicine award of the year. The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute had no knowledge of this. The Board of Directors of the Nobel Foundation concluded that the purpose of the rule is to prevent intentional posthumous award. Since the decision was made in good faith that Steinman was alive, he received the award anyway.

It is not possible to nominate yourself.

The nomination deadline is February 1st. The nominations submitted in the previous twelve months will be taken into account in the selection process.

The prize can generally also be awarded to institutions and associations, but each awarding institution can decide for itself whether the prize entrusted to it should be available for this purpose. So far only the Nobel Peace Prize has made use of this.

Right of nomination

Different people have the right to make a nomination, depending on the price category:

  • Basically previous winners in the respective category
  • For physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine and economics, the members of the respective Nobel Committee, the Academy of Sciences, professors of the respective subject at certain Scandinavian universities and other selected individuals and teachers at selected other universities are entitled to nominate.
  • Proposals for the Nobel Prize in Literature can be submitted by professors of literature and linguistics, members of the Swedish Academy and similar institutions, and the presidents of representative writers' associations.
  • Proposals for the Nobel Peace Prize, any member of a national parliament or a government and an international court to make, as well as professors from the fields of social science , history , philosophy , law and theology as well as the leaders of peace research institutes and similar organizations.

Interpretation of the criteria

The wording of the will suggests that the award should be given to those who performed a service in the year prior to the award. This is particularly a problem in the scientific categories. Many important findings are only generally recognized years or even decades later. A quick award for the achievements can also mean that ultimately insignificant or even incorrect research results receive the award.

The statutes interpret the will in such a way that the latest achievements in the respective field should be rewarded and older achievements only if their significance has only recently become apparent. Furthermore, only achievements should be awarded which, after experience and examination by experts, are of as outstanding importance as intended in the will.

Therefore, the award is often only awarded decades after the actual achievement, in order to ensure that the recognized achievement meets the standards set by Nobel.

This also means that many winners of the scientific prizes have already retired from their careers at the time of the award. In some cases this even poses a problem. Werner Forßmann , the winner in the Medicine category in 1956, was no longer working in cardiological research at the time of his award, but in a common urological practice in Bad Kreuznach , which is no longer appropriate seemed. He then became the chief surgeon at the Evangelical Hospital in Düsseldorf , where he soon fell out with the board of trustees there and terminated after the probationary period, but this was withdrawn because of the great prestige of the Nobel Prize. Soon after receiving the award in 2005, the Nobel Prize laureate Theodor Hänsch faced the problem that he should have retired in October 2006 and, at best, could have continued to work until he was 68. At times he even considered going to the USA. The Bavarian state government assured him a solution based on private employment.

Sometimes a performance can no longer be awarded because the potential winner has already passed away. So was Oswald T. Avery never a Nobel Prize though his realization that the DNA is the carrier of genetic information, certainly a century of knowledge was. However, it took too long for science to accept this finding. It was nominated a total of 36 times between 1932 and 1953 (data for 1954 and 1955 are not yet available).


According to the foundation's statutes, information on nominees and nominees as well as related opinions and investigations by the committee will be kept under lock and key for a period of 50 years. Only then can the files be viewed upon request, whereby each case must be examined and access remains reserved for historical research.

Restrictions in the selection of the award winners

In addition to the restriction to living award winners and the maximum number of award winners and award-winning achievements, there is also the requirement that the achievement must have been published beforehand.

Failure to award the prize

If there is no proposal among the nominations that meets the conditions set out, the prize money will be kept until the following year. If no worthy award winner is found, the money goes back to the foundation.

This is the only possibility according to the statutes not to award the prize. Both late award and non-award have occurred numerous times, especially during wartime. This was most often the case with the Nobel Peace Prize, which was deferred a total of 12 times and not awarded at all 19 times.

If the prize money was not awarded in the years 1914 to 1932, it was always placed in the special fund for the respective prize category. From 1933 to 1948, in such a case, one third of the prize money was transferred to the main fund, while the other two thirds went to the special fund for the respective prize category. Since then, both variants have been used, but this only affected the Nobel Peace Prize, because the other prizes were last not awarded during the Second World War . The first waiver of the award of the prize took place in 1914, when no one was awarded in the categories of literature and peace. The last non-award so far was the 1972 Nobel Peace Prize.

The option of late awarding was used a few times in times of war, but also more frequently in the period between the world wars. This occurred more than once in each price category in the 1920s. In the Nobel Prize for 1925, for example, only the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded without delay. In the scientific categories, however, there has been no postponement of the award since the Second World War. This was last used in 1949 for the Nobel Prize for Literature. The first delayed award was the Nobel Peace Prize in 1912. After this had become unusual since the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976, which was only awarded in 1977, the option of postponement was used again for the first time in 2018 when the Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature 2018 due to a crisis 2019 postponed.

According to the statutes, the business award has the same award guidelines, but neither the option of deferment nor that of non-award has been used so far.

Award winners

Number of winners

The price may be divided between up to two services. If a service was performed by two or three people, the price may be divided between them. However, the prize must never go to more than three people at the same time.

As the following table (as of October 14, 2019) shows, the distribution of Nobel Prizes is handled very differently in the individual disciplines.

category Awards Number of winners not awarded
1 2 3 total O
medicine 110 39 33 38 219 1.99 9
physics 113 47 32 34 213 1.88 6th
chemistry 111 63 23 25th 184 1.66 8th
peace 100 68 30th 2 134 1.34 19th
literature 112 108 4th - 116 1.04 7th
Total (without economy) 546 325 122 99 866 1.59 49
economy 51 25th 19th 7th 84 1.65 -
Total (with economy) 597 350 141 106 950 1.59 49

The Nobel Prize for Literature is almost never shared (most recently in 1974), but the scientific categories are often shared, in physics and medicine even in more than half of the awards. With the exception of the Nobel Prize for Literature, all prizes tend towards price sharing.

This can be explained by the fact that literary services are almost exclusively provided by individuals. At least no joint achievement has ever received an award. It is therefore very unlikely that the award will be divided between three winners, as at least two winners would then have to be honored for the same achievement. According to the statutes, a division between two people, each with an independent service, is only conceivable if both services were equally important in the respective year and there was no service that was even greater. In the scientific categories, however, services are often performed jointly by many researchers, so that a breakdown is usually appropriate.

Multiple award winners

Marie Curie (1911) is the only woman to have won two Nobel Prizes and, besides Linus Pauling, the only person to have received it in two categories

So far, the prize has only been awarded to four people twice - Marie Curie (1903 for physics and 1911 for chemistry ), Linus Carl Pauling (1954 for chemistry and 1962 for peace), John Bardeen (1956 and 1972 for physics) and Frederick Sanger ( 1958 and 1980 for chemistry). Pauling is the only one who didn't have to share any of the awards with anyone else.

Organizations have also received the award several times. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1954 and 1981. Its predecessor organization, the International Nansen Bureau for Refugees (High Commissioner of the League of Nations), was awarded this prize in 1938, its leader Fridtjof Nansen in 1922. The International Committee of the Red Cross was awarded three times (1917, 1944, 1963) for its peace efforts, 1963 together with the League of Red Cross Societies . The founder of the ICRC and the Red Cross movement, Henry Dunant , received the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901 together with the French pacifist Frédéric Passy .

Proportion of women

By 2019, a total of 866 Nobel Prizes had been awarded in the five classic categories, 787 of which went to men, 52 to women and 27 to organizations. Less the multiple award winners, 784 men, 51 women and 24 organizations were honored. In addition, there are 82 male and two female winners of the business award. The proportion of women including the business price is therefore 5.7%.

category All in all Women Men Organizations Ratio
women: men
First award
to a woman
So far, last award
to a woman
physics 213
3 210
0 1:70
(1: 69.7)
1903 2018
economy 84 2 82 0 1:41 2009 2019
chemistry 184
5 179
0 1: 35.8
(1: 35.6)
1911 2018
medicine 219 12 207 0 1: 17.2 1947 2015
literature 116 15th 101 0 1: 6.7 1909 2018
peace 134
17th 90 27
1: 5.3 1905 2018
(excluding economy)
1: 15.1
(1: 15.4)
1903 2018
(with economy)
1: 16.1
(1: 16.3)
1903 2019
  • The multiple award winners are counted several times in the table. The number of physically different prize winners are shown in brackets .

According to Nobel's will, only the most worthy should receive the award. The gender is not mentioned.

Accordingly, early Nobel Prizes were awarded to women. However, the distribution over the years is very irregular. The literature prize was awarded a total of six times from 1909 to 1966 and then again in 1991. It is similar with the peace prize, which was awarded to women in 1905, 1931 and 1946, and then again in 1976. In chemistry, after 1964, it was not again until 2009 a woman awarded the prize. Until 1976 only Gerty Cori received the award for medicine, but since then 11 other women have been honored. The physics award has the lowest proportion of women. Only one woman was honored here in 1903, 1963 and 2018. For a long time the prize for economics was purely a male domain, until it finally went to Elinor Ostrom 40 years after it was first awarded .

The prizes in the scientific categories can only go to scientists and are usually awarded long after the award-winning performance, so that the previous winners mostly came from generations of researchers in which the proportion of women was very low. In the other areas, the field of possible award winners is broader. The award committee for the Nobel Peace Prize can also honor organizations. The literature prize can be awarded to writers regardless of qualification or genre.

Marie Curie is the only two-time winner. She received her first prize in physics in 1903, along with her husband Pierre and Antoine Henri Becquerel . However, this happened at the suggestion of her husband, who told the Nobel Prize Committee in a letter that his wife had an equal share in the achievement. She received the second prize for chemistry in 1911. She was the first female prize winner in both prize categories. Besides her, only Linus Carl Pauling received two Nobel Prizes in different categories.

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard was the only German woman to receive a Nobel Prize in 1995.

The year with the largest number of women so far was 2009. Five women and eight men received the award, including the business award, including the first female award winner in chemistry in 45 years and the first ever business award winner.

A total of 19 women were the sole Nobel Prize winners. The Nobel Peace Prize has so far been the only one to be shared exclusively among women. It did so in 1976 when Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan were recognized, and in 2011 when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf , Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman were jointly awarded the award. Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol W. Greider also shared the 2009 Nobel Prize for Medicine with Jack Szostak . The spokeswoman for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines , Jody Williams , received half of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, and the organization as such received the other half. All other award winners shared the award with one or more men.

In 2005, the campaign was nominated in 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 1,000 women from 151 countries for the Nobel Peace Prize .

Youngest and oldest Nobel Prize winners

Doris Lessing, oldest award winner so far

Youngest and oldest at the time of the award ceremony

Theodor Mommsen (1817–1903) had the earliest date of birth of all Nobel Prize winners , who was awarded in the literature category a year before his death.

The oldest Nobel Prize winner is John B. Goodenough , who received the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry at the age of 97. The second oldest was Arthur Ashkin , who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2018 and was 96 years old at the time. The oldest winner was the writer Doris Lessing , who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007 at the age of 88 years and 49 days and was therefore only 8 days younger than the third oldest winner, Raymond Davis junior . The youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize is child rights activist Malala Yousafzai , who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 at the age of 17. Nadia Murad , who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, and William Lawrence Bragg , who received the Physics Prize in 1915, were each 25 years old . Bragg is also the youngest male award winner. The next four youngest Nobel Prize winners are also physicists: Werner Heisenberg (31 years and 5 days), Tsung-Dao Lee (31 years and 16 days), Carl David Anderson (31 years and 98 days) and Paul Dirac (31 years and 124 days ). However, Heisenberg was not actually awarded the prize for 1932 until one year later, so that he was already 32 years old when it was awarded. The third youngest woman is Tawakkul Karman , who received her 2011 Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 32.

The oldest winner of the business award, Leonid Hurwicz , received the award in 2007 at the age of 90 years and 111 days. The oldest winner of the business award was Elinor Ostrom , who was 76 years old when the award was presented in 2009. Since the prize has only gone to two women so far, she was both the oldest and youngest winner until 2019. That changed when Esther Duflo received the award in 2019 at the age of 47. She is also the youngest ever recipient of the business award. The youngest man was Kenneth Arrow , who received the award in 1972 when he was 51.

Highest reached age

Since May 4th, 2008, Rita Levi-Montalcini has been the person who has reached the highest age of all Nobel Prize winners. She died on December 30, 2012 at the age of 103. The oldest male Nobel Prize laureate and also the oldest living laureate is the biochemist Edmond Henri Fischer , who is 100 years and 143 days old.

The oldest living Nobel Prize winner is the pharmacologist Tu Youyou , who is 89 years and 241 days old.

Among the business laureates , Ronald Coase reached the highest age at 102 years. The oldest living business award winner is Robert M. Solow at the age of 96 years and 4 days. The oldest business award winner was Elinor Ostrom , who was 78 years old.

Longest lifespan since the award ceremony

The 1957 Physics Prize winners , Chen Ning Yang and Tsung-Dao Lee , are the winners with the longest time, 62 years and 261 days, since the award ceremony. Among the female winners are Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan , the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winners, who have been 43 years and 261 days longest since the award ceremony. Divided into categories, the respective longest periods of time are 54 years and more in the scientific categories, while it is only 43 years for the Peace Prize and only 37 years for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Paul A. Samuelson , who received the award in 1970 and died 39 years and 3 days later, reached the longest time among the winners of the business award. Most of the time has passed among the surviving laureates at Robert M. Solow . He received the award in 1987, 32 years and 261 days ago. For the first female award winner, Elinor Ostrom, 2 years and 185 days passed. The only other business award winner , Esther Duflo , will break this mark on June 12, 2022.

Nationality of the award winners

In his will, Nobel expressly stipulated that Scandinavians should not be given preference in the awarding of the prize, but only the most worthy should be selected. It is unclear whether this rule is objectively taken into account, as a disproportionate award can also result from the fact that a particularly large number of award-worthy services are provided in this country.

With the exception of Sweden, the Scandinavian countries are not well represented. However, Sweden will have winners in each category for at least four years. With the exception of the chemistry award, where Switzerland was often involved in awards, only significantly more populous countries are ahead of Sweden.

The United States is particularly well represented . They top the statistics in all categories with the exception of literature. In economics, there were only 22 of the 71 award winners by 2012 who were not from the USA. But even without taking the business award into account, there are hardly any years since the Second World War in which no American has received an award. This was only the case in 1948, 1957, and 1991, with a 1948 American native being one of the winners. Before the Second World War, the picture was exactly the opposite: by 1922, only six Americans had been awarded a Nobel Prize, including three Nobel Peace Prizes. There were seven more years in the 1920s and 1930s in which no American was honored. The winners also include numerous immigrants who had fled Europe or who went to the USA because of the attractiveness of the scientific institutions and then later accepted citizenship. In 1973, for example, both US winners were immigrants.

For a long time, the Nobel Foundation kept lists of nationality, but has since removed this information from its website. A representative of the respective country, usually the ambassador, is invited to the festivities and receives a place among the guests of honor. As a rule, the winners themselves indicate their nationality. The Norwegian Nobel Institute maintains its own lists for the Nobel Peace Prize, some of which differ from those of the Nobel Foundation.

Among other things, this practice means that information on nationality is occasionally controversial or confusing. For some dual citizens only one nationality is indicated, e.g. B. with Elizabeth Blackburn , who is also an Australian citizen , but is only listed in the Nobellists as an American with an Australian birthplace. Also for award winners who stood between several nations, such as E.g. Albert Schweitzer , who was born in Alsace , found the indication of only one nationality to be insufficient or, depending on the viewer's point of view, incorrect. Another reason for discrepancies are the numerous government changes in the 19th and 20th centuries. For some award winners, the place of birth is named with the then and current nationality, while for others only one of the two is named. An example of this is Günter Blobel , whose place of birth , which is now in Poland , is recorded as a place in Germany . Mother Teresa was born in Skopje , which then belonged to the Ottoman Empire and is now the capital of North Macedonia . However, her family was Albanian , which is why she is often seen as an Albanian. In the official Nobel list, however, none of the three states is named, but the place of birth is shown as belonging to Turkey , probably because this was a common name for the Ottoman Empire even before the establishment of the Turkish state. Her nationality is shown as Indian because she was an Indian citizen at the time of the award.

Since the Nobel Peace Prize has already been awarded several times to laureates who have worked towards a solution to a conflict over the state affiliation of an area, the mere indication of nationality runs the risk of being viewed as tendentious. When the 14th Dalai Lama Tendzin Gyatsho was awarded the title, Tibet was given as the nationality , although this state only exists in the form of a government in exile . In 1998 and 1976 achievements in the settlement of the Northern Ireland conflict were awarded. Here the Nobel Institute chose Northern Ireland as a nationality, although this region has never been an independent state and neither party to the conflict is seeking to found one. The Nobel Foundation, on the other hand, names the United Kingdom as a nationality based on the current formal affiliation .

Political Conflict

The Nobel Prize itself is politically neutral, but the selection of the winners repeatedly leads to conflicts with governments who do not like the winner.

This is particularly true of the Nobel Peace Prize. The committee is usually reluctant to give clear assessments, but the selection itself is often seen as a statement for or against a certain policy. In individual cases there is also clear criticism. B. by awarding it to Jimmy Carter in 2002. At the announcement, the committee chairman Gunnar Berge spoke out against the Iraq policy of the then US President George W. Bush .

time of the nationalsocialism

When the pacifist Carl von Ossietzky was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1935 , there was a conflict with the National Socialist regime in Germany.

From 1934, various interest groups campaigned for the Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded to Carl von Ossietzky, who was arrested in 1933 and deported to a concentration camp . In 1934 the nomination was submitted too late and by an institution not entitled to nominate. Another attempt in 1935 was promising, but the German government exerted considerable pressure to prevent the award. The Nobel Prize Committee decided not to award the prize in 1935 and postponed the prize in accordance with the statutes so that it could still be awarded retrospectively in 1936.

Ossietzky, who was seriously ill, was transferred from the concentration camp to a hospital in 1936 and released from prison on November 7th. The international campaign had an impact and Ossietzky was awarded the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize on November 23. Despite urging from the Gestapo and Hermann Göring personally, he decided to accept the award. He was refused permission to travel to Norway for the award ceremony and died in Berlin in 1938.

In order to ensure that such a political disaster for the regime would not happen again, Adolf Hitler issued a doctrine in 1937, according to which Reich Germans were forbidden to accept the Nobel Prize “for all future”. Instead, a German National Prize for Art and Science was introduced and awarded in 1937 and 1938.

Several German scientists were affected by the ban. Richard Kuhn received the Chemistry Prize in 1938, but was not able to accept it until 1948. In 1939 Adolf Butenandt received the chemistry prize; however, he was not able to receive the award until 1949. Gerhard Domagk was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1939. He was even arrested for thanking him for the award. In 1947 he was able to take it. All of these winners had to forego the prize money, as the prize would have to be collected within one year.

Conflicts with the Soviet Union

In two cases, the Soviet regime took action against the awarding of the prize to citizens of the Soviet Union.

The writer Boris Pasternak was urged in 1958 to reject the Nobel Prize for Literature that had been awarded to him. At first he accepted, but under pressure from the Soviet government, he refused the award. Doctor Zhivago , his best-known work, was only published abroad in 1957 because it was rejected for publication in the Soviet Union because of the “counter-revolutionary spirit” and “pathological individualism”. The award of the Nobel Prize to Pasternak was officially viewed as an unfriendly act. Pasternak was excluded from the writers' association.

If Pasternak had left to accept the award, he would have had to fear that he would not be allowed to return to Russia afterwards. However, he did not want to leave the country, so he refused to accept. He died in 1960. Doctor Zhivago was only allowed to be published in 1987 in the Soviet Union. Boris Pasternak's son accepted the award in a special ceremony in Stockholm in 1989.

The physicist Andrei Dmitrijewitsch Sakharov received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 for his work as an activist for human rights in the Soviet Union. However, he was refused to leave, so that his wife Jelena Georgievna Bonner traveled to Oslo and there received the award and gave the acceptance speech and lecture.

Measures by the Chinese government against the award to Liu Xiaobo

By awarding the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to the Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo , who was serving an 11-year prison sentence for “undermining state authority” at the time, the committee resisted pressure from his home country. The Chinese government reacted coolly and described the winner as a "criminal". The pressure to boycott the award was followed by 19 countries, most of which had close ties with China and did not want to endanger them. Liu Xiaobo was not released from custody, and his wife was also unable to receive the award because, like many other Chinese activists, she was banned from traveling. The fact that neither the award winner nor a representative close to him could participate was the last time that the award was given to Carl von Ossietzky in 1936.

At the award ceremony, the winner's chair remained symbolically empty. China blocked the broadcast of the ceremony in the country by shutting down two international news channels and tightening internet censorship, which also affected the Nobel Prize pages. Committee chairman Jagland called for Liu Xiaobo to be released. The prize is kept in Oslo until it can be picked up. Liu Xiaobo passed away in 2017 without being able to accept the award.

The Confucius Peace Prize has been awarded in China since 2010 , which is seen as the counterpart to the Nobel Peace Prize.


Press conference at the Swedish Academy of Sciences

Since there is no public nomination and the winners are announced before the award ceremony, the prize is very well received on the day it is announced. The announcement of the prices traditionally takes place from the beginning to mid-October. The prices are usually announced in the following order:

  • Medicine: The announcement will take place on a Monday in early October in the Wallenberg lecture hall of the Karolinska Institute . In principle, it is open to the public. However, visitors with a press card are now given preferential admission, while all other visitors only have remaining seats. The event had previously been so well attended that not all visitors could find a seat. The announcement will be followed by a presentation of the work of the award winners and a press conference. Meanwhile, the official press releases are being issued.
  • Physics: The announcement takes place in the building of the Academy of Sciences, which is a press conference to which only press representatives are normally allowed, so that the number of listeners is smaller. The work of the award winner (s) will then be presented. If possible, a telephone connection will be established with one of the award winners so that they can answer a few questions in front of the press. If one or more of the award winners is not from an English- or Swedish-speaking country, the press releases are often also available in their language. The day after the announcement of the medicine price is usually chosen as the date.
Announcement of the 2008 Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry
  • Chemistry: The process is essentially the same as for physics. The date is usually the day after the physics award is announced.
  • Peace: A few days later the winner of the Peace Prize will be announced in Oslo. Usually a Friday is chosen for this.
  • Literature: While the dates of the press conferences for the other prizes are fixed weeks in advance, the date of the announcement for the literature prize is traditionally only made public a few days before it takes place. This was deviated from in 2020. The day after the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry is usually chosen. The place of announcement is a hall on the upper floor of the Swedish Academy in the old town of Stockholm. At the time of the announcement, usually 1 p.m., the permanent secretary of the academy steps out of a door and, after a brief greeting, reads the award winner and the reason for the award. A short press conference will then take place. The announcement does not include any further introduction of the award winner, but press releases will be distributed portraying the award winner. The announcement was freely accessible to the public until 2014 and was therefore so well attended that the audience crowded close to the door. Immediately after the announcement, there was usually enthusiastic applause for the winner. Since 2014, different access restrictions have been applied from year to year. B. only media representatives are allowed, sometimes the size of the audience is limited if necessary.
  • Economy: The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was like the Nobel Prize for Literature is no fixed date. Sometimes the announcement takes place before the Peace Prize, sometimes after, but in any case after the three scientific prizes. The procedure is similar to that of physics and chemistry.

Most of the press conferences today are held in English . However, the Swedish award bodies usually read the announcement with the reason in Swedish as well. The names of the award winners and the reasons for them are often read out in French , German and Russian , as Alfred Nobel was able to speak these languages ​​as well. However, this varies depending on the person making the announcement and the origin of the respective award winner whose name is being announced.

The dates are usually marked with the note "at the earliest" (at the earliest), as there may be delays. These can occur, for example, when the call to an award winner takes longer than expected.

The winners are usually informed by telephone before the public, also in order to prepare them for the expected onslaught of the press. Because of the time difference, these calls often reach the US award winners in the middle of the night. Since the winners at best know that they have been nominated, the news usually comes highly unexpected and not infrequently in memorable situations. 1991 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Richard R. Ernst , was on a flight to Moscow when he was asked into the cockpit where he received the news. Günter Grass was just at the dentist . Willy Brandt was in a session of the German Bundestag when Bundestag President Kai-Uwe von Hassel interrupted the session and announced the news from Oslo. Sometimes, however, those responsible fail to reach the award winners. This was the case, for example, with George E. Smith , who found out about it during the first press interview.


The awards ceremony in Stockholm and Oslo takes place every year on December 10th, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death. A number of traditions have grown around the award of prizes since 1901.


Stockholms Stadshus - venue for the noble banquet right after the award ceremony

The winners are the focus of a whole Nobel Week that starts a few days before December 10th and ends on December 13th. You are staying at the Grand Hôtel Stockholm near the old town in Stockholm.

Nobel Lecture

Nobel lecture in the Aula Magna

According to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation, the award winner should, if possible, give a lecture on the award-winning work. This should be held before the award ceremony or no later than six months afterwards.

The lectures in Stockholm are traditionally all held on December 8th. If December 8th falls on the weekend, there may be deviations. In 2012, when December 8th fell on a Saturday, the lectures for literature and medicine took place on December 7th, but the others, as usual, on the following day.

  • The lecture of the winners in the categories physics , chemistry and economics usually take place on December 8th in the Aula Magna of Stockholm University . It is a cohesive event in which all three categories are presented one after the other. The lectures are often less specialist lectures, but humorous reviews of the career of the respective award winner, often combined with highlighting important employees. The event is public. Free posters are given to the visitors that clearly present the award-winning services. There are two posters for each category, one in English and one in Swedish.
  • The lecture of the winners in the Medicine category will also take place on December 8th in the lecture halls of the Karolinska Institute. The AI ​​also creates posters. The event is public.
  • The literary winners will hold their lecture in the Swedish Academy (Literature) hall on December 8th. Access to the event is reserved for ticket holders. The lectures often relate less to the work of the award winners and are often general considerations with political undertones.

If the award winner is unable to be present for health or personal reasons, another solution will be chosen if possible. Harold Pinter , winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, sent his lecture by video because he was unable to attend for health reasons. Doris Lessing , winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature, was also unable to come for health reasons and had the lecture read out by her publisher.

Award ceremony

Award ceremony 2010

The high point of Nobel Week is December 10th, when the Swedish King awards the prizes in the early evening. This day is the so-called Nobel Day in Sweden , which is one of the days on which the Swedish flag is to be hoisted.

At the first award ceremony in 1901, all the celebrations took place in the Hall of Mirrors of the Stockholm Grand Hotel. There were 113 men present, who toasted once to the king, Oskar II , and once to the crown prince, who later became Gustav V , and then toasted four cheers. The banquet also took place there. However, the king himself was not present and did not present the award until 1902.

The award ceremony has been held in the Konserthuset on Hötorget since 1926 . When the royal family moves in , the Swedish royal anthem is sung. Speeches will be given about the work done by the award winners. Most of these are in Swedish, but the final sentences and the request to accept the award will be performed in English or in the winner's native language. The king then hands over the award medal and a certificate. After the award ceremony is over, the Swedish national anthem will be sung. This is followed by the departure of the royal family. In between there is a musical supporting program.

The Konserthuset has only very limited space, so the choice of guests is even more limited than at the subsequent banquet. The royal family, the laureates, the chairman of the Nobel Foundation and the individual chairmen of the awarding bodies sit on the stage. Around 90 members of the procurement organizations, former award winners and speakers sit in the first rows.

Nobel banquet

Panorama of the Blue Hall at the Nobel Banquet 2005. After dinner, the guests go upstairs to the Golden Hall to dance.
Set table at the Nobel Banquet 2005 with the dinner service , which is only used at this event

Then the winners go to the Nobel Banquet, which has been held in the Stadshuset since 1930 with a few exceptions ; originally the Golden Hall was used for this. Since this was too small, it will now take place in the Blue Hall on the lower floor. The Golden Hall serves as the kitchen and will later be used for dancing.

The winners, the royal family, high representatives of the Nobel committees and foreign guests of honor sit at the table of honor at the banquet. B. the ambassadors of the countries from which the award winners come. These special guests of honor march in procession at the beginning. Other guests of the Nobel Banquets are involved in the award process as well as guests of honor from all over the world. A limited number of students from Swedish universities are also allowed to participate. The right to purchase these tickets is given away in an annual lottery. Students also have ceremonial tasks as escorts during the procession and as stewards. A total of over 1000 people take part in the banquet. The number is strictly limited because of the limited space in the Stadshuset; even former award winners are refused entry tickets if the seats are full.

The multi-course menu is kept secret until the end and, unlike all other official documents of the Nobel Prize, is only available in French. The entertaining of the guests is carried out by several hundred employees, some of whom have practiced this long beforehand.

The king and the chairman of the Nobel Foundation offer a toast in memory of Alfred Nobel . After the meal, the award winners will hold short speeches of thanks. If there are several winners in a category, one of them will speak on behalf of the other winners.

In addition, there is an elaborate musical program between the courses and dance after the meal. The award medals can also be seen there in showcases.

After the end of the banquet, the student association of one of Stockholm's universities traditionally organizes an elaborate party with a specific theme. Most of the prizewinners still take part here, although they are encouraged to show off their singing skills.

The banquet has so far been canceled four times in peacetime: in 1907 because of the national mourning for King Oskar II , in 1924 because none of the winners came for various reasons, and in 1956 because they wanted to prevent the Soviet ambassador from taking part in protest against the violent suppression of the Hungarian popular uprising , as well as in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic . The celebrations for the awards during the First World War were made up for in 1920. During the Second World War , the prize was not awarded at all for several years and there were no celebrations.

End of Nobel Week

In the days before and after the award ceremony, the winners take part in numerous events, such as visiting schools.

December 13th is the festival of Lucia in Sweden , when children organize a procession with candles early in the morning. The Nobel Prize winners are awakened by such a procession. This is the traditional end of Nobel Week.


Also on December 10th, the Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded in Oslo in the early afternoon. Although there are days in Norway on which the Norwegian flag must be hoisted on public buildings, unlike in Sweden, December 10th is not one of them.

The award ceremony in Oslo has been held in the City Hall since 1990. From 1926 to 1946 it was held at the Nobel Institute, and from 1947 in the auditorium of the University of Oslo. The handover itself takes place in the presence of the Norwegian king and is carried out by the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. The laureate then gives the lecture prescribed in the Nobel Statutes in the form of a longer speech.

Afterwards there will also be a banquet in Oslo.

Since 1994, the Nobel Peace Prize Concert has been held the next day every year . This concert in honor of the award winner typically encompasses a wide range of musical genres. The program is based in part on the winners of the year, i. i.e. there are B. artists from their home countries. The winners are also presented and are often present. The tickets for the concert can be bought by the general public.


The decisions of the award committees are often controversial. In the peace and literature price categories in particular, there is occasional to severe criticism almost every year. In the scientific categories, however, criticism is rare and is usually limited to the fact that the other scientists involved in the award-winning work were not taken into account (see below ). It is also criticized that the award is intransparent or that a work is honored too late (if the awardee could no longer use the prize money for research because of his old age).

Another criticism is the fact that awarding a prize in the economics category is associated with the Nobel Prize and its procedure, because the usefulness of economic theses for mankind (according to the idea of ​​the Nobel Prizes) is doubtful and economics is wrongly elevated to the rank of natural sciences would.

Importance of performance

Henry Kissinger, 1973 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

In the case of the Nobel Peace Prize, the criticism mostly arises from the fact that it is often awarded relatively shortly after the event in question, so that historical consideration and the inclusion of the long-term consequences are not possible. One example are Henry Kissinger and Lê Đức Thọ , who were awarded the Nobel Prize for ending a war with millions of victims that they had started on their own responsibility. Only Henry Kissinger accepted the price, Lê Đức Thọ refused to accept it because, from his point of view, there was still no peace in Vietnam at that time. The award to Yasser Arafat or Menachem Begin for their roles in the peace process in the Middle East was also questioned in retrospect. Another example is the controversial awarding of the prize in 1985 to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), which conservative and Christian Democratic European politicians accused of having too close ideological ties to the Eastern bloc. Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in the year he took office as US President in 2009, without having had any major foreign policy successes to date.

The Nobel Prize for Literature is also often criticized. The decision to go with Harold Pinter was heavily criticized by some literary critics in 2005. When Orhan Pamuk was selected in 2006, the reaction in his home country Turkey was hypothermic, as he is a politically very controversial writer there. However, there were also a large number of positive votes in both examples.

In 1938 the American Pearl S. Buck was awarded the literary prize. This award was received with incomprehension at the time and is still often viewed as a wrong decision today, as Buck's works have little literary value. The so-called "Lex Buck" arose from this criticism. This is the unwritten rule of only honoring authors who have been nominated at least once before. According to the former Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Horace Engdahl , this guideline applies. How often it is complied with can, however, be definitively determined at the earliest 50 years after the award of the award due to the Nobel Foundation's closing time. From the data published by the Nobel Foundation so far, which date back to 1950, it can be seen that both William Faulkner (1949) and Bertrand Russell (1950) received their Nobel Prizes after only one nomination. However, this was an extraordinary situation: according to the statutes, the award can be postponed for one year if no suitable winner can be found. That was apparently the case in 1949, despite 35 nominations. If one had not found a worthy winner for 1949 among the 54 nominations from 1950 - a record by then - the award would have gone back to the foundation.

Number of winners

Another problem, especially in the natural sciences, is the restriction to three winners. Today, scientific achievements can often no longer be assigned to individual scientists. In the field of elementary particle physics, for example, new knowledge is being gained from large accelerators that hundreds of scientists are working on. In such cases, however, the award does not go to the relevant institutions or individual scientists. Rather, individual awards are given on behalf of whom one can then argue under certain circumstances to what extent they actually contributed to the project.

This problem can best be circumvented with the Nobel Peace Prize, as it is very common to award it to organizations. In the case of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the problem exists, at least in principle, since writers' collectives could , of course, also possibly perform worthy of the Nobel Prize.


One explanation for the strikingly large number of US award winners is provided, among other things, with the argument that the Americans do the best lobbying work. Long before the nomination, the largest universities agree on only a few candidates, so that the Swedish noble jurors are always amazed when they ask the Ivy League faculties over the phone with the request for suitable proposals and they regularly hear the same names. This frequent naming of names means that the Nobel Assembly can hardly avoid considering the named candidates.

Investment in arms deals

In 2017 there was criticism from NGOs that the foundation invested in stocks of companies that manufacture or modernize nuclear weapons. The foundation then changed its investment guidelines to rule this out in the future.

Comparable prices and prices related to the Nobel Prize

Many other prizes are considered comparable to the Nobel Prize for various reasons. There are also some prizes that are directly or indirectly related to the Nobel Prize.

Alfred Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics

The Alfred Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics has been an award since 1969 , which is often referred to as the “Nobel Prize for Economics ” or the “ Nobel Prize in Economics ”. The prize is awarded together with the Nobel Prizes, is subject to the same award criteria and is endowed with the same amount. However, he is not mentioned in Alfred Nobel's will, whose prize money is financed by the Swedish Reichsbank from its own resources.

Jakob von Uexküll, founder of the Right Livelihood Award
Fields Medal - often referred to as the Nobel Prize in Mathematics
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards two Nobel Prizes and the Crafoord Prize.

Right Livelihood Award

The Right Livelihood Award has been presented annually since 1980 for achievements in the field of ecology and development. There are usually four winners. This prize is known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, especially in the German-speaking world . However, it has no ties to the Nobel Prize and receives less international attention. The founder, the German-Swedish philatelist Jakob von Uexküll , gave the Nobel Foundation his idea of ​​establishing two more Nobel Prizes for ecology and those related to poverty. However, this refused the establishment.

Theoretically, such a facility would be based on the model of the business price, i. H. through an annex to the Nobel Statutes and completely external funding. A frequently given reason for the rejection is the criticism of the business award after its establishment. Von Uexküll also only promised to participate in the financing.

Von Uexküll decided to award such a prize on its own. He founded the Right Livelihood Award Foundation , which is financed by individual donations and is now based in Stockholm . Based on the Nobel Prize, the Right Livelihood Award is presented each year in the days before December 10th, using the premises of the Swedish Parliament .

Prices in other departments

Since the Nobel Prize covers only a few subject areas, there are numerous other prizes that are of outstanding importance in their respective disciplines and thus play a role similar to the Nobel Prize.

The following awards enjoy such a reputation:

Awards indirectly related to the Nobel Prize

There are also some prizes that, like the Nobel Prize, are related to the institutions involved in the Nobel Prize or to the Scandinavian countries and are therefore brought closer to it:

  • The Abel Prize was donated by the Norwegian Parliament, which also elects the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, for achievements in mathematics. A committee of experts appoints the award winners. In contrast to the Fields Medal , which can only be awarded for achievements before the age of 40, there is no age limit for the Abel Prize.
  • The Polar Music Prize is awarded for achievements in music and, like the Nobel Prize, is also presented by the King of Sweden. The donor Stikkan Anderson commissioned the Royal Swedish Music Academy with the award, which is also a parallel to the Nobel Prize, as it is also awarded by royal academies in some categories.
  • The King of Sweden also presents the Birgit Nilsson Prize , the world's most valuable music prize.
  • The Crafoord Prize is awarded annually by the Royal Swedish Academy of Science, which determines the winners in physics, chemistry and economics, in the disciplines of mathematics, geosciences, biology and astronomy. The prize is intended as a complement to the Nobel Prize to promote areas of expertise that it does not cover.
  • The World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child is sometimes referred to as the Children's Nobel Prize . It was donated by the Swedish government. The Swedish Queen is the patron.

Asian prices

There are also some prizes awarded in Asia that enjoy a prestige comparable to that of the Nobel Prize:

  • The Ramon Magsaysay Award is often referred to as the Asian Nobel Peace Prize.
  • The Japan Prize is a science award with a very high reputation in Asia.
  • The Shaw Prize, awarded since 2004 in the disciplines of astronomy, life sciences / medicine and mathematics, is endowed with one million US dollars.

Alternative and counter prices

Some prizes were established as alternatives or counterparts to the Nobel Prize.

  • The German National Prize for Art and Science was awarded in 1937 and 1938. It was donated by Adolf Hitler in response to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Carl von Ossietzky . Germans were banned from accepting the Nobel Prize.
  • The International Lenin Peace Prize (until 1955 the Stalin Peace Prize) was awarded by the Soviet Union from 1950 to 1990 . Most recently, it was to be awarded every two years, but after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 there were no further awards.
  • The Confucius Peace Prize has been awarded by the People's Republic of China since 2010 . It is seen as the answer to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo in 2010, which the Chinese leadership disapproved of .
  • Since no Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded in 2018 after an internal crisis in the Swedish Academy, an organization was formed under the name “Den Nya Academies” (“The New Academy”) in order to be able to award a major international literary prize in 2018. Nominations were obtained from among Swedish librarians. Afterwards, four favorites were chosen from among the 47 nominees in a free internet vote, which received around 32,000 votes, from which a jury of experts then selected the winner. Maryse Condé was announced as the award winner on October 12, 2018 . The prize money was financed from donations, which in the end amounted to a little over 250,000 crowns. The award was presented in a ceremony in Stockholm on December 9th. The organization disbanded on December 11, 2018.

Ig Nobel Prize

The Ig Nobel Prize is a satirical prize and is awarded for useless, unimportant or bizarre scientific work. Contrary to the name, the award is no longer seen as negative and many award winners are happy to accept it. Real Nobel Prize winners take over the handover at the award ceremony. Since 2010, Andre Geim has even been a scientist who has received both the Ig Nobel Prize and the Nobel Prize.


  • Frank Amoneit u. a .: Harenberg Lexicon of Nobel Prize Winners. All award winners since 1901, their achievements, their lives, their impact . 2nd updated and expanded edition. Harenberg, Dortmund 2001, ISBN 3-611-00612-2 .
  • Know Fant: Alfred Nobel. Idealist between business and science. ("Alfred Bernhard Nobel"). Birkhäuser, Basel 1995, ISBN 3-7643-5059-8 .
  • Bernhard Kupfer: Lexicon of Nobel Prize Winners . Patmos-Verlag, Düsseldorf 2001, ISBN 3-491-72451-1 .
  • Peter Neulen (Ed.): The Brockhaus Nobel Prize. Chronicle of exceptional achievements . 2nd Edition. Brockhaus Verlag, Mannheim 2004, ISBN 3-7653-0492-1 .

Web links

Commons : Nobel Prize  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Nobel Prize  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

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