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15 Award-Winning Facts About The Nobel Prize

1. Robert Lucas, winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on the theory of "rational expectations," split his $1 million prize with his ex-wife. If there were a Nobel Prize for Foresight or Timing, I'd nominate her, based on a clause in their divorce settlement from seven years earlier: "Wife shall receive 50 percent of any Nobel Prize." But the clause expired on October 31, 1995. Had Lucas won any year after, he would have kept the whole million.

dynasty.jpg2. Physicist Lise Meitner, whose work helped lead to the discovery of nuclear fission, was reportedly nominated for the Nobel Prize 13 times without ever winning. This makes her the Dynasty of the Nobel Prize scene (the show was nominated for 24 Emmy Awards but never won). Other analogies we'd accept: The Color Purple (11 Oscar nominations in 1985, no wins) and William Jennings Bryan (three-time Democratic nominee for President, losing twice to McKinley and once to Taft.)

3. In 2007, two winners had a combined age of 177. At 90, professor Leonid Hurwicz is the oldest person to ever win (one-third of the Prize in Economics); at 87, writer Doris Lessing is the oldest woman (Literature).

Keep reading for duels, sex scandals, overlooked legends and flat-out refusals.

Mullis2.jpg4. DNA expert Kary Mullis "“ 1993 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry "“ was scheduled to be a defense witness in O.J. Simpson's murder trial. However, Simpson lawyer Barry Scheck felt the prosecution's DNA case was already essentially destroyed, and he didn't want Mullis' personal life to distract jurors (read: he'd expressed an affinity for LSD and surfing.)

5. In the last ten years, the Nobel Prize in Literature has gone for the first time to authors in Portugal, China, Trinidad & Tobago, Hungary, Austria and Turkey [source].

einstein.jpeg6. Nobel Laureates you must know: Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Elie Wiesel, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Jimmy Carter, Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett, Pierre & Marie Curie, Max Planck and Albert Einstein (====>).

7. Big names who never won: Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Mangesh Hattikudur, Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, Paul Tagliabue, Henrik Ibsen, Thomas Edison and Mahatma Gandhi.

8. The following people refused the Prize:

kissinger_tho.jpg"¢ Le Duc Tho was awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize with Henry Kissinger for their roles in brokering a Vietnam cease fire at the Paris Peace Accords. Citing the absence of actual peace in Vietnam, Tho declined to accept.

"¢ Jean Paul Sartre waved off the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature. His explanation: "It is not the same thing if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre or if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize winner. A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honorable form."

"¢ Afraid of Soviet retribution, Boris Pasternak declined to accept the 1958 Prize in Literature, which he'd earned for Doctor Zhivago. The Academy refused his refusal. "This refusal, of course, in no way alters the validity of the award. There remains only for the Academy, however, to announce with regret that the presentation of the Prize cannot take place."

"¢ Erik Axel Karlfeldt won for Literature in 1918. He did not accept because he was Secretary of the Swedish Academy, which awards the prize. He was given the award posthumously in 1931.

9. As part of his divorce settlement, Einstein's Nobel Prize money went to his ex-wife, Mileva Maric.

10. Winners without the greatest reputations:

"¢ Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, who won in 1976 for his research in human slow-virus infections, spent 19 months in jail after pleading guilty in 1997 to charges of child molestation.

"¢ Johannes Fibiger won in 1926 after discovering parasitic worms cause cancer "“ a breakthrough that turned out to not be true.

arafat.jpg"¢ Yasser Arafat shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. This decision caused Nobel Committee member Kare Kristiansen to resign. "What consequences will result," he asked at the time, "when a terrorist with such a background is awarded the world's most prestigious prize?"

"¢ William Shockley won for Physics in 1956 for his role in the invention of the semiconductor. But his support of the eugenics movement alienated the scientific community. Shockley also donated sperm to the Repository for Germinal Choice, a sperm bank developed to spread humanity's best genes (Slate did a great series on this in 2001.)

11. The first Nobel Laureates collected 150,800 Swedish kronor (about $15,420 today). The stakes have been raised. This year's prize was $1.5 million "“ shared in the case of multiple winners.

MarieCurie.jpg12. The Curie family is a Nobel Prize machine, winning five: Pierre and Marie (==>) for Physics in 1901; Marie solo for Chemistry in 1911; daughter Irene and her husband Frédéric Joliot-Curie for Chemistry in 1935; and Henry Labouisse, who was married to Pierre and Marie's daughter Eve, accepted on behalf of UNICEF in 1965.

13. Marie Curie's second prize was marred by scandal. Then a widow, Curie had an affair with a married scientist, Paul Langevin "“ a former pupil of Pierre Curie. Love letters were involved, eventually leading to a duel between Langevin and the editor of the newspaper that had printed them (no shots were actually fired.) When it was suggested that she not accept the prize, she wrote a shrewd letter, in which "she pointed out that she had been awarded the Prize for her discovery of radium and polonium, and that she could not accept the principle that appreciation of the value of scientific work should be influenced by slander concerning a researcher's private life."

14.
Alfred Nobel "“ inventor of dynamite "“ may have been inspired to create the Nobel Prize after a premature obituary in a French newspaper called him a "merchant of death."

15. Nobel died on December 10, 1896. The formal awards ceremony is held in Stockholm each year on the anniversary of his death. The first awards show took place on December 10, 1901. These things take time to plan.

And in case you were wondering just how much of a say Alfred Nobel had in the prize, here's his will:

The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way:

The capital shall be invested by my executors in safe securities and shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work of an idealistic tendency; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

The prizes for physics and chemistry shall be awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; that for physiological or medical works by the Caroline Institute in Stockholm; that for literature by the Academy in Stockholm; and that for champions of peace by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting. It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, so that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be Scandinavian or not.

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Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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iStock

Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Space
More Details Emerge About 'Oumuamua, Earth's First-Recorded Interstellar Visitor
 NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA/JPL-Caltech

In October, scientists using the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope sighted something extraordinary: Earth's first confirmed interstellar visitor. Originally called A/2017 U1, the once-mysterious object has a new name—'Oumuamua, according to Scientific American—and researchers continue to learn more about its physical properties. Now, a team from the University of Hawaii's Institute of Astronomy has published a detailed report of what they know so far in Nature.

Fittingly, "'Oumuamua" is Hawaiian for "a messenger from afar arriving first." 'Oumuamua's astronomical designation is 1I/2017 U1. The "I" in 1I/2017 stands for "interstellar." Until now, objects similar to 'Oumuamua were always given "C" and "A" names, which stand for either comet or asteroid. New observations have researchers concluding that 'Oumuamua is unusual for more than its far-flung origins.

It's a cigar-shaped object 10 times longer than it is wide, stretching to a half-mile long. It's also reddish in color, and is similar in some ways to some asteroids in own solar system, the BBC reports. But it's much faster, zipping through our system, and has a totally different orbit from any of those objects.

After initial indecision about whether the object was a comet or an asteroid, the researchers now believe it's an asteroid. Long ago, it might have hurtled from an unknown star system into our own.

'Oumuamua may provide astronomers with new insights into how stars and planets form. The 750,000 asteroids we know of are leftovers from the formation of our solar system, trapped by the Sun's gravity. But what if, billions of years ago, other objects escaped? 'Oumuamua shows us that it's possible; perhaps there are bits and pieces from the early years of our solar system currently visiting other stars.

The researchers say it's surprising that 'Oumuamua is an asteroid instead of a comet, given that in the Oort Cloud—an icy bubble of debris thought to surround our solar system—comets are predicted to outnumber asteroids 200 to 1 and perhaps even as high as 10,000 to 1. If our own solar system is any indication, it's more likely that a comet would take off before an asteroid would.

So where did 'Oumuamua come from? That's still unknown. It's possible it could've been bumped into our realm by a close encounter with a planet—either a smaller, nearby one, or a larger, farther one. If that's the case, the planet remains to be discovered. They believe it's more likely that 'Oumuamua was ejected from a young stellar system, location unknown. And yet, they write, "the possibility that 'Oumuamua has been orbiting the galaxy for billions of years cannot be ruled out."

As for where it's headed, The Atlantic's Marina Koren notes, "It will pass the orbit of Jupiter next May, then Neptune in 2022, and Pluto in 2024. By 2025, it will coast beyond the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt, a field of icy and rocky objects."

Last week, University of Wisconsin–Madison astronomer Ralf Kotulla and scientists from UCLA and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) used the WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona, to take some of the first pictures of 'Oumuamua. You can check them out below.

Images of an interloper from beyond the solar system — an asteroid or a comet — were captured on Oct. 27 by the 3.5-meter WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Ariz.
Images of 'Oumuamua—an asteroid or a comet—were captured on October 27.
WIYN OBSERVATORY/RALF KOTULLA

U1 spotted whizzing through the Solar System in images taken with the WIYN telescope. The faint streaks are background stars. The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image. In these images U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faint
The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image against faint streaks of background stars. In these images, U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faintest visible stars.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Color image of U1, compiled from observations taken through filters centered at 4750A, 6250A, and 7500A.
Color image of U1.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

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