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3 Interesting Facts About the Nobel Prize

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Of all the most world’s most famous awards, Nobel Prize medals are the only ones that are made of solid gold. Alfred Nobel, for whom the awards are named, is the inventor of dynamite and was given the nickname "The Merchant of Death." In 1888 his brother Ludvig died while visiting Cannes and a French newspaper erroneously published an obituary for the inventor, not Ludvig. The obituary condemned him for his invention of dynamite stating, Le marchand de la mort est mort ("The merchant of death is dead") and went on to say, "Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday." Many believe it was this obituary that inspired Nobel to want to change how he would be remembered, leading to the creation of the Nobel Prize. Nobel's final will eventually allocated 94% of his total assets to establish the five Nobel Prizes.

2 Nobel Prizes Were Melted Down to Avoid Being Taken By Nazis

In 1940, when the Nazis invaded Copenhagen, physicist Niels Bohr was in the custody of two Nobel awards sent to him for safekeeping from two German Nobel laureates, one of Jewish descent, the other an opponent of the National Socialists. Gold was forbidden to leave Germany at the time and to be found with the awards would have been evidence of a serious crime.

The day the Nazis came to Copenhagen, a Hungarian chemist named Georgy de Hevesy  was working in Bohr’s lab. He initially suggested that Bohr bury the medals but Bohr thought the Germans would dig up the grounds, the garden, and search everywhere in the building. So what did de Hevesy do? “I decided to dissolve it.”

In his book, “The Disappearing Spoon” Sam Kean says;

…When the Nazis ransacked Bohr’s institute, they scoured the building for loot or evidence of wrongdoing but left the beaker of orange aqua regia untouched. Hevesy was forced to flee to Stockholm in 1943, but when he returned to his battered laboratory after V-E Day, he found the innocuous beaker undisturbed on a shelf.

Back in Denmark, de Hevesy reversed the chemistry, precipitated out the gold and then sent the raw metal back to the Swedish Academy in Stockholm. The Nobel Foundation recast the prizes using the original gold and re-presented them to the laureates.

The World's Most Peaceful Man Never Won a Nobel Peace Prize

Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi never won the Nobel Peace Prize award, although dedicated his life to advocating for non-violence in the struggle for Indian independence from colonial rule. He was nominated five times, but failed to win. Nominations for the Nobel Prizes can only be made for living persons and since Gandhi was assassinated just two days before the nominations for the 1948 prize were due he disqualified him from the nomination pool. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee actually considered selecting Gandhi for the award that year in spite of the rules. But instead, the committee's final decision was to withhold the award that year, stating that "there was no suitable living candidate" worth rewarding.

Women are Poorly Represented Amongst  the Winners.

In total, 561 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to date. As some are shared, there have been 876 winners. However, only 45 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to women. Madame Marie Curie has actually won two Nobel Prizes. One for Physics in 1903 with husband Pierre and Henri Becquerel, and once again in 1911 for Chemistry after discovering radium and polonium. The second woman to ever win a Nobel was actually Irène Curie, Marie's daughter. And Marie's other daughter was also the director of UNICEF when it won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965 (organizations are allowed to be nominated for the Peace Prize, not just individuals).

Physicist Lise Meitner, whose work helped lead to the discovery of nuclear fission, was reportedly nominated for the Nobel Prize 13 times without ever winning.