The Nobel Prizes, 120 years of existence and still awaited

The RNA revolution? Peace efforts in West Africa? Quantum physics? The benefits of scouting for international cooperation? Like every year, the games are open to find out what progress and especially who will be distinguished by a precious Nobel Prize.

The 2021 edition starts this Monday, October 4. Medicine opens the week, as traditionally, but with a particular resonance while this year again will be marked by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Physics will follow on Tuesday, then chemistry on Wednesday, before literature on Thursday October 7 and the highly anticipated Nobel Peace Prize, announced on Friday October 8. Finally, even if it is not strictly speaking a Nobel, the Bank of Sweden prize in economics will be awarded the following Monday, October 11.

A first ceremony in 1901

Above all, this year marks the 120th anniversary of this ceremony. In his will, drawn up a year before his death in 1896, Alfred Nobel asked that his fortune acquired through the invention of dynamite be used to reward those who contributed ” great benefits to humanity In each of the five categories. There is no Nobel Prize in mathematics, without knowing why, but the “utilitarian” tone of Alfred Nobel’s will suggests that he probably did not want to distinguish between theoretical sciences.

Five years later, in 1901, the very first Nobel Prizes were awarded. The Nobel Peace Prize went to the founder of the Red Cross, Henry Dunant, and to the French politician Frédéric Passy. Let us also quote the poet Sully Prudhomme who receives the prize in literature, and the physicist Wilhelm Röntgen, awarded for having discovered X-rays.

50 years of waiting to find out who was nominated by whom

To be honored, it is impossible to introduce yourself. International experts in each field can propose names of candidates, which are then studied and decided by the various Nobel committees in charge of each prize. The lists of candidates and the person who submitted their name are revealed after fifty years.

We know, for example, that facing Henry Dunant and Frédéric Passy, ​​the Austrian Bertha von Suttner had been proposed (she would finally win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905) or even the Belgian Édouard Descamps (who would never obtain it). ). For the 2021 edition, no less than 329 names have been submitted to the Nobel Peace Prize committee, 95 of which are organizations and the rest are personalities.

57 women out of 962 Nobel Prize winners

According to the statutes, a maximum of three people can share the prize. The limit is regularly contested in the scientific field, where great discoveries are made by research teams. The under-representation of women and people from ethnic minorities also comes up regularly in the debate.

In 120 years of existence, and even if the prizes have not been awarded in some years due to war, only 57 women have been distinguished out of 962 laureates. In 2020, the American poet Louise Glück won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the French Emmanuelle Charpentier and the American Jennifer Doudna shared that of chemistry, and the American Andrea Ghez received a third of the physics prize for her work. on black holes. Will the year 2021 be better? Answer from Monday noon.


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