On Dec. 10, 1901, the first Nobel Prizes were awarded in physics, chemistry, literature, physiology or medicine, and peace to, “those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” Today, while the winners of the Nobel Prize are often awarded for accomplishments and contributions made over the course of a lifetime, the spirit of the award remains the same, and represents one of the world’s greatest professional accomplishments.
To celebrate Nobel Prize Day, we invite you to learn about how the Nobel Prizes were established, and to discover some of the winners who have shaped our world in diverse ways.
Learn the Accidental History of the Nobel Prize
Though National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, was not in great health, he was very much alive when, according to one popular story, he opened the morning paper in 1888 and was shocked to read his obituary.
It turned out that the journalist who had been assigned to write the story had confused Alfred with his older brother Ludvig, who had in fact passed away while vacationing in Cannes, France. What stood out most in the obituary was a line that described Alfred as a man who “became rich by finding a way to kill more people faster than ever before.”
The writer was referring to Nobel’s invention of dynamite, a combustible paste consisting of nitroglycerine and kieselguhr. Paired with his blasting cap invention, “a wooden plug filled with black gunpowder, which could be detonated by lighting a fuse,” dynamite was 1,000 times more powerful than black powder and made construction safer, more efficient, and created more cost-effective roads, tunnels, canals and many other building projects across the world throughout the latter half of the 19th century.
Though he understood the incredible power of dynamite, throughout his life, he was very much against war and conflict. He had dreamed of creating a substance of “such frightful efficacy for wholesale destruction that it would make wars impossible.”
After reading his premature obituary, Nobel wrote in his last will and testament that a majority of his fortune — 31 million Swedish crowns — should go to establishing a series of prizes to individuals who have contributed greatly to the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace.
Get to Know NIHF Inductees Who Have Won Nobel Prizes
The Nobel Prize, widely considered to be the most prestigious honor in each field, has been awarded to 34 NIHF Inductees, including Carolyn Bertozzi, who was awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Check out a selection of Hall of Famers who have won a Nobel Prize below:
- Luis Alvarez – recognized for inventing a hydrogen bubble chamber
- Arthur Ashkin – recognized for inventing optical tweezers and applying them to biological systems
- Enrico Fermi – recognized for developments made toward harnessing nuclear power and induced radioactivity
- Dennis Gabor – recognized for inventing holography
- Jack Kilby – recognized for inventing the integrated circuit
- Ernest Lawrence – recognized for inventing the cyclotron
- Guglielmo Marconi – recognized for contributions made to wireless telegraphy
- Shuji Nakamura – recognized for inventing the blue LED
- Frances Arnold – recognized for contributions made to the directed evolution of enzymes
- Carolyn Bertozzi – recognized for inventing the field of bioorthogonal chemistry
- Carl Bosch – recognized for contributions made to producing ammonia
- Fritz Haber – recognized for inventing a process for synthesizing ammonia
- Irving Langmuir – recognized for inventing the incandescent electric lamp
- Kary Mullis – recognized for devising the polymerase chain reaction
- Walther Nernst – recognized for contributions made to the field of thermochemistry
- Glenn Seaborg – recognized for the synthesis and isolation of plutonium
Physiology or Medicine
- Frederick Banting – recognized for discovering insulin
- Baruch Blumberg – recognized for inventing a vaccine for hepatitis B
- Willem Einthoven – recognized for inventing the electrocardiograph
- Gertrude Elion – recognized for inventing anti-leukemia drugs
- Godfrey Hounsfield – recognized for inventing computer-assisted tomography, known as CAT scanning
- Paul Lauterbur – recognized for inventing magnetic resonance imaging, known as MRI
- Peter Mansfield – recognized for inventing the first fast MRI technique
- Selman Waksman – recognized for inventing streptomycin
Find More Ways to Celebrate Innovation
Want to learn more? Check out this free STEM activity that invites children to brainstorm Nobel Prize-worthy ideas and celebrate the power of invention! We also invite you to visit our blog to discover the stories behind more inspiring NIHF Inductees.