10 Things You Might Not Know About the Nobel Prize

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There's no red carpet or twerking involved, but it's an exciting time: Nobel Prizes are being announced this week. Who knows? Maybe you almost won.

1. The story goes that Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, was inspired to establish his awards in 1864 after a French newspaper mistakenly ran his obituary, entitled "The merchant of death is dead." Nobel didn't want that to be his legacy. (Whose obituary was supposed to run that day? Nobel's younger brother Emil, who died while experimenting with nitroglycerine in their father's factory.)

The Nobel Prizes are awarded December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's actual death. In 1896, he died of a stroke at the age of 63.

2. The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo and presented by the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, while the other Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm and presented by the King of Sweden. Why? Because Nobel planned it all out in his will:

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.

3. Notice that Nobel didn't mention economics? That's because the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences is not a Nobel Prize. It's technically the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Sweden's central bank created the endowment in 1968.

4. Nobel Prize winners take home a diploma, a gold medal, and some cold, hard cash. Last year's winners were awarded $1.1 million. But being a Nobel laureate? Priceless.

5. Organizations can win the Nobel Peace Prize, but only individuals can be nominated for the others.

6. Well, sometimes the prize is shared, but never by more than three people. (For teams larger than three, the committee will choose who gets left out. Ouch!) If two people win, the money is equally split. If three people win, the awarding committee chooses how to divide the prize.

7. Nobel Prize nomination records are kept sealed for 50 years after the award is given. Winners don't know they're nominated until they win. So go ahead, assume you almost won the Nobel Prize.

8. All kidding aside, there's one group that will never be nominated: the deceased. There are no posthumous nominations, which means that Eleanor Roosevelt, James Joyce, and Mahatma Gandhi will never enjoy their time in the Nobel spotlight. Gandhi was so close to winning—he'd been nominated a number of times and had just been nominated a third time days before his 1948 assassination. Geir Lundestad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, called Gandhi's absence, "The greatest omission in our 106-year history."

One small comfort: If you're awarded the Nobel Prize but die before the December 10 ceremony, you're still a winner.

9. Nobel originally intended to give awards for contributions made during the preceding year. But that occasionally meant honoring ideas that weren't actually proven. Like Johannes Fibiger's 1926 discovery that parasitic worms cause cancer. (Uh, they don't.) Now most scientific discoveries and innovations are honored after they've stood the test of time. Let's hope that if they do, you're still alive.

10. Nobel laureates are required to give a public lecture within six months of accepting their award. Most of them fulfill the obligation during Nobel Week in Stockholm. Then, at the end of the week, they get to party. The Nobel banquet includes live music, a three-course dinner, dancing, and a strict dress code. Men must wear "a black tailcoat with silk facings, sharply cut away at the front, black trousers with two rows of braid down each leg, white stiff-fronted shirt, white stiff wing collar attached to the shirt with collar studs, white bowtie, white low-cut waistcoat, black dress socks and black formal shoes." Women have it a little easier—with no restrictions on the color or design of their evening gowns. Long gloves and a shawl are optional.

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October 8, 2013 - 11:00am
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