What is the Nobel Prize?

FILE: A Nobel Prize medal replica is on display inside the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway, on September 19, 2022. Picture: Victoria Klesty Reuters

FILE: A Nobel Prize medal replica is on display inside the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway, on September 19, 2022. Picture: Victoria Klesty Reuters

Published Oct 2, 2023


Johan Ahlander

Stockholm: The Nobel prizes, arguably the world’s most prestigious awards, are to be announced this week, starting with the award for medicine or physiology on Monday. The prizes, with 11 million Swedish crowns (about $1 million) each, are also given for achievements in physics, literature, chemistry and peace.

What is the Nobel Prize?

The Nobel Prize was created by wealthy Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who in his will dictated that his estate should be used to fund “prizes to those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind”.

Nobel died in 1895, but it took until 1901, following fighting over his will, before the first awards. Nobel named the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to award the prizes for chemistry and physics, the Swedish Academy for literature, Sweden’s Karolinska Institute medical university for physiology or medicine, and the Norwegian parliament for peace. It is not known why Nobel chose Norway, which at the time was in a union with Sweden, to hand out the peace prize.

In 1968, when Sweden’s central bank was celebrating its 300th anniversary, it established the Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel with a donation to the Nobel Foundation. The prize is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, according to the same principles as the other prizes.

Bust of Alfred Nobel is seen at the Karolinska Institute as the Nobel Assembly announces this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 2. Picture: Jessica Gow TT News Agency via Reuters

Famous and infamous laureates

Notable Nobel laureates include scientists like Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr and Marie Curie, authors like Ernest Hemingway and Albert Camus, and inspirational leaders like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr and Mother Teresa.

While most achievements are still celebrated, some awards have not aged well, such as Egas Moniz’s 1949 prize in physiology or medicine for the since banned and discredited practice of lobotomy. Many peace prizes have also been criticised, including those for Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, and Shimon Peres. Failure to give the prize to Mahatma Gandhi before his death in1948 is also seen by many as a mistake.

The festivities

The Nobel prizes are presented to the laureates on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death. The peace prize is handed out by the chairperson of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo, while the other prizes are presented by the Swedish king in Stockholm’s Concert Hall.

During the evening some 1 300 guests are treated to a lavish banquet at Stockholm City Hall. The banquet requires extensive planning and the food is prepared by a head chef, eight head waiters, 210 waiters and waitresses, five wine waiters and 20 cooks.

Months before the banquet, three menus suggested by selected chefs are presented to the Nobel Foundation for tasting. The selected menu is kept secret until the day of the Nobel Banquet.

The menus aim to have a touch of Scandinavia and last year’s menu included a starter of seaweed baked pike-perch, main course of venison filled with morel and sage, and dessert of baked cheesecake and plum compote.