The numbers behind the lauded Nobel Prize

3 Oct 2016

Nobel Prize. Image: Pe3k/Shutterstock

The Nobel Prize is perhaps the most prestigious award in various fields such as medicine, chemistry, physics and peace. Here are the numbers behind the medals.

130 years ago, Swedish scientist and philanthropist Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament, dying one year later.

In the will, Nobel left the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace.

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Nobel Prize

Nobel Prize: Dynamite

The fortune created by Nobel came from inventing the likes of dynamite and his dealings in other types of armaments and weaponry. The prizes are thought to have been created due to his reading of a premature (and highly critical) obituary.

In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank added an economic field, completing the set of the esteemed catalogue of Nobel Prizes today.

With all but the peace awards limited to just three winners each, 573 have been awarded since the first ceremony in 1901, with 900 laureates receiving a medal.

These include several Irish people:

  • William Campbell, Physiology or Medicine, 2015
  • John Hume, Peace, 1998
  • David Trimble, Peace, 1998
  • Seamus Heaney, Literature, 1995
  • Betty Williams, Peace, 1976
  • Mairead Maguire, Peace, 1976
  • Seán MacBride, Peace, 1974
  • Samuel Beckett, Literature, 1969
  • Ernest Walton, Physics, 1951
  • George Bernard Shaw, Literature, 1925
  • William Butler Yeats, Literature, 1923
The Nobel Prize medal, front and back. Image: The Nobel Foundation/Lovisa Engblom

The Nobel Prize medal, front and back. Image: The Nobel Foundation/Lovisa Engblom

Nobel Prize: Physics

Physics is the field that has received the most prizes, with its figure of 109 – one, two and three more than literature, chemistry and medicine respectively. Peace and economic sciences have received just 143 between them.

Since the initial ceremony in 1901, zero awards have been given out on 49 occasions. Most of these instances occurred during the periods of the two World Wars, 1914-1918 and 1939-1945.

Interestingly, towards the end of the Second World War, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the ‘father’ of the UN, Cordell Hull, received Nobel Peace Prizes, in 1944 and 1945 respectively.

In the statutes of the Nobel Foundation it says: “If none of the works under consideration is found to be of the importance indicated in the first paragraph, the prize money shall be reserved until the following year.

“If, even then, the prize cannot be awarded, the amount shall be added to the Foundation’s restricted funds.”

Nobel Prize: Ageless

The average age of prize winners is 59, with Irishman Campbell’s award last October occurring in his 86th year. This came decades after his discovery led to the development of a drug called Avermectin, which has seen the creation of derivatives that have “radically lowered the incidence of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis”, according to the Nobel Foundation.

The youngest Nobel laureate is Malala Yousafzai, winning the 2014 peace prize at the age of 17.

All medals are 18 carat recycled gold and some, according to Campbell, are sold on by recipients, rather than retained. Winners also receive a diploma and around €900,000, divided amongst those sharing the prize.

Nobel Prize. Image Pe3k/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic