The Nobel Prize, as everyone knows, is Kind of a Big Deal. Awarded annually, the Nobel has come to signify ultimate achievement in the advancement of humanity. In today's DNews report, Trace Dominguez looks at the history, significance and controversy behind the Nobel Prize.
First, that name: Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel was most famous -- during his own lifetime, anyway -- for inventing dynamite. In 1895, he secretly drafted his will to set aside the bulk of his estate for prizes in five fields: physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace. (The Nobel prize for economics was added later by Sweden's central bank.) Nobel passed away in 1896, and in 1901 the first awards were announced.
The Nobel Prize was rather obscure at first, and little known outside the scientific community. But when Marie Curie and her husband won the 1903 physics prize -- along with their pal Henri Becquerel -- the public got interested and the Nobel Prize began accumulating its massive prestige. Over the years, winners have included such marquee names as Albert Einstein, Jean-Paul Sartre, Nelson Mandela, Ernest Hemingway and Martin Luther King, Jr.
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The Nobel Prize has generated its share of controversies, too. A recurring headache for committees is that Nobel stipulated that only three people could share any given award. In the sciences, significant breakthroughs often require teams of collaborators, so this has resulted in some perceived snubs and bad feelings. Nobel also stipulated that, aside from the peace prize, all award committees must made up of Norwegians.
At any rate, the committees select winners by inviting nominations from literally thousands of people prominent in their respective fields. Each committee works independently and establishes a system for narrowing down the choices to a winner. Often the winner is recognized for career achievements, and that can take a while. The estimable Peter Higgs -- of Higgs boson fame -- has to wait almost 50 years for his prize. He proposed the Higgs boson's existence in 1964, but it wasn't confirmed until 2012.
Double Secret Bonus Fact: Marie Curie is not only the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, she's the only scientists who has won in two different scientific categories.
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