Imagine how Mr Alfred Nobel must have felt when, back in 1888, he discovered an obituary in a newspaper, which was entitled “The Merchant of Death is Dead”. You see, it was his brother who died, but the French newspaper mistakenly thought it was Alfred Nobel himself. And he earned such a byname by developing dynamite and other explosives, which gained him a fortune.
As you might imagine, the great inventor felt an urge to clear his reputation and thus to leave this world as someone more than “the merchant of death”. This eventually lead to a creation of a series of prizes for achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine and physiology, literature and world peace.
We are, of course, talking about the prestigious Nobel prizes, which have been awarded just recently. So let’s take a look at some interesting and fun facts about the Nobel prizes, focusing mostly on the physics prize winners.
1. 94% of Nobel’s Fortune Was Used to Create the Prizes
As mentioned before, Nobel earned a fortune by working with various explosive substances. 94% of his fortune was dedicated to the Nobel prizes. It was worth around 31 million SEK, (around 200$ dollars in today’s money). Today, the funds are managed by The Nobel Foundation. The money is conservatively invested and is used to award the prize winners.
2. The Youngest Nobel Prize Winner so Far is Lawrence Bragg
Sir William Lawrence Bragg, an Australian-born British physicist, won the Nobel prize in physics when he was only 25 years old. “For their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-ray” he shared the prize with his father.
3. The Average Age of All Physics Laureates is 55
So there have been 196 laureates in physics so far. The youngest laureate is Lawrence Bragg, whereas the oldest was Raymond Davis Jr (88).
4. Only One Person Has Received More than One Prize in Physics
It was John Bardeen, who received two prizes in total. The first one was for the invetion of the transistor, whereas the second one was for the work on a fundamental theory of conventional superconductivity known as the BCS theory.
5. A Number of Physicists Regretted Winning the Prize
For instance, Richard Feynman stated that he really hated the publicity that came along with the prize (interview). Paul Dirac also had doubts, when he won the prize. He even wanted to refuse the prize, as he was exceptionally shy and thus hated publicity. However, he was persuaded not to refuse the prize as it would bring even more publicity.
6. Family of Nobel Prize Winners
The Curie family is famous for being awarded 5 prizes in total. Marie Curie and Pierrie Curie received a prize in physics back in 1903. Then Marie Curie received a second prize in chemistry in 1911. Then one of Marie and Pierre Curie’s daughters, Irène Joliot-Curie , was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935 together with her husband Frédéric Joliot.
7. Nicola Tesla and Thomas Edison Never Won Nobel Prizes
The reason for that is that they were considered to receive a shared prize, but hated each other so much that the committee changed their minds.
8. Einstein’s Prize Money Went to Mileva Maric
After his unsuccessful marriage with Mileva, Einstein decided to leave his prize money to his ex wife and their two children. This, as you might imagine, caused a lot of speculation. For instance, that Mileva co-wrote some of Einstein’s papers and the great scientists felt in debt.
9. Lise Meitner Has Been Nominated for 13 Times
Physicist Lise Meitner, who made the calculations that contributed to the discovery of nuclear fission, was nominated for the Nobel Prize 13 times but never won it. Element 109 (Meitnerium), however, is named after her.
10. Wilhelm Röntgen Was the First Physics Prize Winner
In 1901 he received the first ever Nobel prize in physics. Also, it is worth mentioning, that Röntgen refused taking out patents related to his discovery — he wanted everyone to freely benefit from his discovery.