December 10th – The Nobel Prize is awarded for the first time

The medal awarded as part of the Nobel Prize. Nobel laureates also receive a diploma recognizing their achievement along with a monetary prize.

The medal awarded as part of the Nobel Prize. Nobel laureates also receive a diploma recognizing their achievement, along with a monetary prize.

On this day in 1901, the Nobel Prize was awarded for the first time in Stockholm, Sweden. Since its inception over 100 years ago, a total of 835 individuals and 21 organizations have been awarded with the Nobel Prize.

The Nobel Prize takes its name from Alfred Nobel, a prominent Swedish engineer and inventor. Besides the award that contains his name, Nobel is known as the inventor of dynamite, one of the greatest paradoxes in history. Upon his death in 1896, Nobel’s last will specified that his wealth be used to fund a series of prizes for those who contribute the “greatest benefit on mankind” in the fields of physics, chemistry, peace, physiology or medicine, and literature. Almost $190 million (current day monetary value) was used to establish these Nobel Prizes.

On December 10th, 1901, five years to the day after Alfred Nobel passed away, the first Nobel Prizes were handed out. Amongst the inaugural class of Nobel laureates were Wilhelm Röntgen (Physics) for his discovery of X-rays and Henry Dunant (Peace) for founding the International Red Cross. Here are some other fun facts:

  • The Nobel Prize for Economics was not one of the original five prizes, and was only awarded after 1969.
  • Only two individuals have multiple Nobel Prizes in different fields. These individuals are Marie Curie for Physics (1903, for her work in radiation phenomenon) and Chemistry (1911, for her discovery of the elements radium and polonium) and Linus Pauling for Chemistry (1954, for his work on the nature of the chemical bond, more specifically orbital hybridization) and Peace (1962, for his work in campaigning against nuclear weapons testing).

A total of 23* Canadians have won a Nobel Prize. The asterisk indicates that some of these individuals were not born in Canada nor were Canadian citizens, but performed much of the work the Nobel Prize recognized while in Canada. Here are five notable Canadian individuals who have won:

  1. Ernest Rutherford for Chemistry (1908). You may know him as the scientist behind Bohr-Rutherford diagrams from high school chemistry class. Rutherford’s work on the half-life of radioactive substances while at McGill University in Montreal was the basis of his Nobel Prize (Rutherford was, in fact, a Kiwi, having been born in New Zealand).
  2. Frederick Banting for Physiology/Medicine (1923). Banting was rewarded the Nobel Prize for his work in (co)discovering insulin while a the University of Toronto. Prior to his arrival at Toronto, Banting was a faculty member at the University of Western Ontario, teaching orthopedics and anthropology.
  3. Lester B. Pearson for Peace (1957). The future prime minister of Canada won his Nobel Prize for his role in defusing the Suez Crisis through his work at the United Nations.
  4. John Polanyi for Chemistry (1986). This Hungarian-born scientist won his Nobel Prize for work on chemical kinetics. Today, Polanyi still teaches chemistry at the University of Toronto.
  5. Alice Munro for Literature (2013). This year’s Nobel laureate in literature received her prize for her work on the short story. Munro is a fellow alumnus of the University of Western Ontario (Go Mustangs!), having studied English and journalism during her time here as an undergraduate student.
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