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Nobel Prize: History, Creation, Categories, Selection Process, and Winners

Arfa Javaid

The Nobel Prize is among the most eminent awards in the world presented each year for intellectual achievement in six different fields of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, Economic Sciences and Peace. The winner of the Nobel Prize takes home a gold medal, diploma and 10 million Swedish Kronor. The prize money comes from the bequest of Alfred Nobel, the creator of the award.

Nobel Prize: What is the history behind the prestigious prize?

Alfred Nobel’s will of 1895 instructs that his fortune must be used as a fund to confer five annual prizes to those people who during the preceding year have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind. The prizes established through his will were for five fields-- Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace.

The sixth category, Economic Sciences, was not originally listed in Alfred Nobel’s will. It was established in 1968 by the Bank of Sweden in memory of Alfred Nobel and was first awarded in 1969.

Post the death of Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Foundation was established to carry out the provisions of his will and to administer the funds. According to the will, three Swedish and one Norwegian institution must award the prizes. 

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awards the prizes for Chemistry, Physics and Economic Sciences, the Karolinska Institute confers the prize for physiology or medicine, and the Swedish Academy confers the prize for literature. The Nobel Peace Prize is conferred by the Norwegian Nobel Committee based in Oslo. 

What led to the creation of the Nobel Prizes?

In 1888, a French newspaper published the obituary of Alfred Nobel who was alive by that time by the title, The Merchant Of Death Is Dead. He was astonished to read his own obituary and decided to change his own will so that people remember him for a long time. 

During his entire life, Alfred Nobel wrote several wills but the last one was composed a year before his death and was signed at the Swedish–Norwegian Club in Paris on 27 November 1895. The will was not approved by the Storting in Norway until 26 April 1897. The Nobel Foundation was formed by the executors of the will, Ragnar Sohlman and Rudolf Lilljequist, to take care of the fortune and to organize the awarding of the Nobel Prizes. The foundation is exempted from all the taxes in Sweden since 1946 and from investment taxes in the United States since 1953. 

Nobel Prize: What is the selection process?

The selection process for the Nobel Prizes begins in the preceding year during Autumn and the winners are announced in October and November. The aforementioned institutions invite thousands of individuals to nominate the names to be considered for the prestigious prize. Nominations from each category are filed and the proposals must be submitted on or before January 31 of the award year to the Nobel Committees.

From February 1, six Nobel Committees, one for each category, commence their work on the nominations which have been filed. The Nobel Committees then submit nominations to the prize-awarding institutions which announce the winners through a majority vote. All prizes can be conferred to individuals except for the Peace Prize which can be conferred upon an institution as well. 

It is to be noted that self-nominations are not allowed in Nobel Prizes and an individual cannot be nominated posthumously but a winner who dies before receiving the prize may be awarded posthumously. Also, the Nobel Prizes are independent of the state. 

1901 Nobel Prize: List of winners

On the fifth death anniversary of Alfred Nobel, the distribution of Nobel Prizes took place on 10 December 1901. Check the winners of the inaugural Nobel Prizes below:


Nobel Prize Category

Nobel Laureates




Jacobus Henricus van't Hoff

Discovery of the laws of chemical dynamics and osmotic pressure in solutions


Sully Prudhomme

Poetic composition, which gives evidence of lofty idealism, artistic perfection and a rare combination of the qualities of both heart and intellect.


Jean Henry Dunant

Humanitarian efforts to help wounded soldiers and create international understanding.

Frédéric Passy

Lifelong work for international peace conferences, diplomacy and arbitration.


Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen

Discovery of the remarkable rays subsequently named after him.

Physiology or Medicine

Emil Adolf von Behring

Contribution to serum therapy, especially its application against diphtheria, by which he has opened a new road in the domain of medical science and thereby placed in the hands of the physician a victorious weapon against illness and deaths.

About Nobel Prizes

1- Each of the Nobel Prize recipients is known as a Nobel Laureate and receives a gold medal, a diploma with a citation and a sum of money which depends on the income of the Nobel Foundation.

2- The Prize can either be given to one individual, can be equally distributed between two people or can be shared among three individuals (each individual receives one-third share of the prize or two together can receive one half of the share). 

3- The Nobel Prizes are open to all individuals around the world irrespective of their nationalities, caste, creed, race or ideology. 

4- The prestigious prize can be conferred upon the same individual more than once.

2021 Nobel Prize Winners

Nobel Prize Category Nobel Laureates
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2021 David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian
Nobel Prize in Physics 2021 Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi
Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2021 Benjamin List and David W.C. MacMillan
Nobel Prize in Literature 2021 Abdulrazak Gurnah
Nobel Prize in Peace 2021 Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov
Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences 2021 David Card, Joshua D. Angrist & Guido W. Imbens

About Alfred Nobel

Famous for his invention of dynamite, Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist, engineer and industrialist who died in 1896. He in his will instructed to use all of his assets to establish five prizes, Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace, collectively called Nobel Prizes. The Prize money comes from the bequest left by the creator of the Prize, Alfred Nobel.

Also Read: 19 most interesting facts about Nobel Prizes

GK Quiz on Nobel Prizes 2021


Who is the oldest Nobel Laureate?

The oldest Nobel Laureate is John B. Goodenough. He was accorded Nobel Prize in Chemistry at the age of 97. 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry is jointly awarded to John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino for the development of lithium-ion batteries.

Who is the youngest Nobel Prize laureate?

Malala Yousafzai is the youngest Nobel laureate. She was accorded Peace Prize at the age of 17. The 2014 Peace Prize was jointly presented to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.

What are the six Nobel Prizes?

Nobel Prizes are accorded each year in six different categories, viz. Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, Economic Sciences and Peace.

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