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What is the Nobel Prize?

The Nobel Prize was established in 1895 by Alfred Nobel. His final will and testament instructed that a foundation be setup using his fortune. This foundation was to annually distribute in prizes to those who have “conferred the greatest benefits to mankind.” The Nobel Prize was first awarded in 1901. The prizes, as instructed by Nobel, were given to individuals in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. Later in 1968 the Sweden’s central bank, Sveriges Riksbank, introduced the Nobel Prize in economic science in honor of Alfred Nobel. In his will, Alfred Nobel selected specific institutions to deliberate and select the winners. The institutions responsible for awarding the Nobel Prize includes the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for chemistry and physics; the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute for physiology or medicine; the Swedish Academy for Literature; the Norwegian Nobel Committee for peace; and the Swedish central bank awards the prize in economic sciences. But how does one win the Nobel Prize and become a Nobel Laureate?

Nomination Process

Well, no individual can nominate themselves the only way to be considered or receive the Nobel Prize is by being nominated. The Nobel Committees select the individuals who serve as nominators in which they receive confidential letters to select their nominations. Those chosen to serve as nominators include members of the academies, university professors, scientists, previous Nobel Laureates, and members of parliamentary assemblies. According to the Nobel Prize website for chemistry, physics, and physiology or medicine the committee sends out about 3,000 letters. The nominators have to power to bring the attention to individuals whom they believe should be awarded the Nobel Prize. The nominators are able to select more than one nominee and the information is kept confidential for 50 years.

For the most part, the nomination process is the same for all the categories. The nomination process begins when the nomination forms are sent out in September. Once the nominations are received by the February deadline the committee members from each institution have the task of screening the nominations and selecting the preliminary candidates. The committee then meets with experts to select the final candidates. In September the committee members submit the final candidates to the institutions for review. Then Nobel Laureates are chosen by a major vote from each institution and announced in early October. It is important to note that the award can be shared by a maximum of three individuals. The prize money is divided in half if two individuals share the award. If three individuals are selected the award committee determines how to divide the prize money either equally or by half and two quarters. In October the winners will receive a very special phone call informing them they have been awarded the Nobel Prize.


The elegant award ceremonies take place on December 10, corresponding to the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. In Stockholm, the Nobel Laureates in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and literature receive the Nobel Medal and Diploma from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. The Peace Prize ceremony takes place in Oslo, Norway. The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate receives the Nobel Medal and Diploma from the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in the presence of King Harald V of Norway. The celebration is followed by an elaborate banquet.

Gender Disparity

The Nobel Prize is a prestigious award that recognizes individuals and organizations who have “conferred the greatest benefits to mankind.” However, looking through the list of the many Noble Laureates it is difficult to overlook the gender disparity. Out of the 935 Nobel Laureates a whopping 52 have been received by women. Marie Curie was the first woman to receive the Physics Nobel Prize in 1903. She was not originally nominated for the award until her husband, Pierre Curie, intervened. When Pierre Curie became aware of the possibility of winning the Nobel Prize he made it clear that he would not accept the award unless Marie was also nominated and recognized. It was then that she was included as a nominee. The radioactive research was not solemnly Pierre’s instead it was a collaboration of the couple.

In 2018 three women were recognized by the Nobel Prize in physics, chemistry, and peace. Donna Strickland became the third woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, Frances Arnold the fifth woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and Nadia Murad the seventeenth woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. It is great that these women were acknowledged for their remarkable contributions to society. However, additional improvements are need if we want to close the gender gap.

The gender gap will not be resolved overnight but there are things that the Nobel Prize committee can do to tackle this issue. One way would be to increase the maximum number of recipients that can receive one award. Increasing the number of recipients would increase the chances for women to be recognized for their contributions to society. Making sure that the women who worked along male individuals who are awarded the Nobel Prizes are also recognized. In addition, the nominators should be encouraged to nominate women. Having a larger pool of women nominees would increase the chances of women winning the Nobel prize because their work is brought to the committee’s attention. To truly honor Alfred Nobel’s wishes, the Nobel Prize should be award to the most worthy individual regardless of their gender.

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