The Story Behind the Nobel Prize
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The Story Behind the Nobel Prize
  • Hwang Hyo-jeong Reporter
  • 승인 2009.11.11 15:02
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Every year on December 10th, the entire world’s attention is focused on the Nobel Prize. The prize gives the leading authority to scientists, the highest honor to writers, the best respect to economists and the highest honor to one person who works toward peace in the world. However, no matter what the excellent things are, there are always hidden faces. Likewise, Alfred Bernard Nobel and the Nobel Prize also have interesting back-stories.

Is the common knowledge about Nobel true?

‘Nobel invented dynamite to help with mining, but it was exploited as a weapon for war. Nobel was really shocked. So, he created the Nobel Foundation and donated all his property as an apology to society.’
This is what most people know about Nobel. However, when we think about Nobel’s background a bit more deeply, we can realize the facts are different. Of course, we can’t deny that the dynamite helped in mining. But Nobel grew up under his father, who delivered munitions. It means that since childhood, Nobel witnessed his father creating weapons used in wars. Consequently, the idea that Nobel invented dynamite simply for mining seems awkward.

There is another story about the reason for establishing the Nobel Prize. One day, Ludwig, the younger brother of Alfred Nobel, was killed due to an explosion at a bomb factory during research. The next day, a newspaper reported ‘the death of Nobel’, but the paper mistakenly switched Ludwig Nobel to Alfred Nobel. Then, many people shouted for joy, “the killer is dead!” Outside, the streets were in a festive mood. You can understand how Nobel felt. Yes. He was really shocked after he saw the paper and people who said ‘hurrah’. After that, Nobel established the Nobel Prize in the sense of an apology about his life and inventions.

Why didn’t Nobel make a math prize?

There is a lot of guessing for the reason that Nobel didn’t make a math prize. The most realistic opinion is discord between Nobel and the contemporary mathematician Mittag Leffler. A more interesting opinion is that it was not just a normal disagreement, but one caused by a love triangle. Let’s examine the event in detail. Nobel and Leffler were in love with a woman at the same time, but she loved Leffler. Nobel was displeased at Leffler and her. Because of this, Nobel didn’t establish a math prize because he didn’t want to give the award to Leffler. As a matter of fact, Nobel ignored all the Leffler’s suggestions.
We can find even more interesting things if we see the inside of this story. After the establishment of the Nobel Prize, J.C. Fields, a professor at the University of Toronto, set up the world’s math prize, called the Fields Medal. One mathematician gave a lot of aid to Fields to establish the prize. He was Leffler. Currently, the Fields Medal is known as ‘the Nobel Prize of mathematics’. Isn’t it ironic?

People have denied the Nobel Prize!
Surprisingly, there are people who reject the Novel Prize which gave the global fame and fortune. Jean-Paul Sartre and Le Duc Tho are the most famous among them. They denied the prize arbitrarily. Their similar reasoning was as follows: Nobel created weapons of destruction and led to destruction. He destroyed human beings. For this reason, they didn’t take the prize given by the Nobel committee. In addition, there are people who refused the prize due to political pressure. These include German scientists Richard Johann Kuhn, Adolf Friedrich Johann Butenandt, and Gerhard Domagk. Unfortunately, they were nominated during World War II. We can imagine the pressure of Hitler. Also, there was a victim of Cold War pressure. He was Boris Leonidovich Pasternak, the Russian novelist and poet. But despite the cold and pricking glare of the Cold War, there was one person who took steps proudly to receive the Nobel Prize. He was James Watson, discoverer of the double helix.

Joy and Sorrow surrounding the Nobel Prize
Joy

* Maria Skłodowska-Curie
She is known as the first woman Nobel laureate and the first two-time winner. In addition, she was part of the first couple of co-winners, and her daughter and son-in-law were also co-winners. She is an unprecedented figure who established multiple records at once.

* Possibility of Korean winner
Theoretical chemist Ree Tae-Kyu, known for the Ree-Eyring Theory, was a member of the nominating committee in 1965. He was also the first Korean candidate of Nobel Science Prize in 1967. President Kim Dae-Jung’s Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 opened the door of opportunity for the Nobel Prize in South Korea.

Sorrow
* Rosalind Elsie Franklin
Female scientist Rosalind Elsie Franklin contributed to discovering the double-helix structure. But she wasn’t properly recognized for her achievement. It was speculated that her X-ray diffraction photograph of DNA was stolen and used in the crucial role of interpretation of DNA by James Watson, who was received the Nobel Prize in Physiology. The more tragic fact is that James Watson received the Nobel Prize in 1962, but Rosalind gasped her life away in 1958.

* Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

India's nationalist movement leader, founding father Mahatma Gandhi, was nominated to the candidate of Nobel Peace Prize five times. But, due to racism by European imperialists, he wasn’t selected as a winner. Racism seems to still exist in selection of the Nobel Prize. This is based on the fact that 80% of the prize is awarded to Jewish and Israeli people. Even more devastating than racism is in another story. In 1939, the candidate list of the Nobel Prize, which contained the name of Gandhi, also had the name of Adolf Hitler, Germany’s dictator. He was even a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize!

Currently the Nobel Prize is a symbol of wealth and honor despite Nobel’s life, the background stories, and problems that have not been improved. The Nobel Prize is a personal honor, as well as a national honor. Through legal lobbying, the improvement of the education system and reformation of research support, Korea should try to produce more laureates of Nobel Prize.

journeyhj@chonbuk.ac.kr

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