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									Alfred Nobel... and his prize
• October 21, 1833
  Stockholm, Sweden
• December 10, 1896 (aged 63)
  Sanremo, Italy

                         Resting place
• Norra begravningsplatsen, Stockholm
• Chemist, engineer, innovator, armaments manufacturer and the
  inventor of dynamite.
              Alfred Bernhard Nobel

• He was a Swedish chemist, engineer, innovator, armaments
  manufacturer and the inventor of dynamite. He owned Bofors, a major
  armaments manufacturer, which he had redirected from its previous
  role as an iron and steel mill. In his last will, he used his enormous
  fortune to institute the Nobel Prizes. The synthetic element Nobelium
  was named after him.
                    Personal background

•   Nobel, a descendant of the seventeenth century scientist, Olaus Rudbeck (1630-
    1708), was the third son of Immanuel Nobel (1801-1872) and Andriette Ahlsell
    Nobel (1805-1889). Born in Stockholm on October 21, 1833, he went with his family
    in 1842 to St. Petersburg, where his father (who had invented modern plywood)
    started a "torpedo" works. Alfred studied chemistry with Professor Nikolay
    Nikolaevich Zinin. In 1859, the factory was left to the care of the second son,
    Ludvig Nobel (1831-1888), who greatly enlarged it. Alfred, returning to Sweden
    with his father after the bankruptcy of their family business, devoted himself to the
    study of explosives, and especially to the safe manufacture and use of nitroglycerine

    (discovered in 1847 by Ascanio Sobrero, one of his fellow students under
    Théophile-Jules Pelouze at the University of Torino). Several explosions occurred
    at their family-owned factory in Heleneborg; one disastrous one killed Alfred's
    younger brother Emil and several other workers in 1864.
• The foundations of the Nobel Prize were laid in 1895 when Alfred
  Nobel wrote his last will, leaving much of his wealth for its
  establishment. Since 1901, the prize has honored men and women for
  outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature,
  and for work in peace.
• In 1876 Bertha von Suttner became Alfred Nobel's secretary but after
  only a brief stay, left and married Baron Arthur Gundaccar von
  Suttner. Though her personal contact with Alfred Nobel had been
  brief, she corresponded with him until his death in 1896, and it is
  believed that she was a major influence in his decision to include a
  peace prize among those prizes provided in his will, which she won in
• Nobel also wrote Nemesis, a prose tragedy in four acts about Beatrice
  Cenci, partly inspired by Percy Bysshe Shelley's The Cenci, was
  printed while he was dying. The entire stock except for three copies
  was destroyed immediately after his death, being regarded as
  scandalous and blasphemous. The first surviving edition (bilingual
  Swedish-Esperanto) was published in Sweden in 2003. The play has
  been translated to Slovenian via the Esperanto version.
• Alfred Nobel is buried in Norra begravningsplatsen in Stockholm.
• Nobel found that when nitroglycerin was incorporated in an absorbent
  inert substance like kieselguhr (diatomaceous earth) it became safer
  and more convenient to handle, and this mixture he patented in 1867 as
  dynamite. Nobel demonstrated his explosive for the first time that year,
  at a quarry in Redhill, Surrey, England.
• Nobel later on combined nitroglycerin with another explosive, gun-
  cotton, and obtained a transparent, jelly-like substance, which was a
  more powerful explosive than dynamite. Gelignite, or blasting gelatin
  as it was called, was patented in 1876, and was followed by a host of
  similar combinations, modified by the addition of potassium nitrate
  and various other substances.
                     The Nobel Prize
• The erroneous publication in 1888 of a premature obituary of Nobel by
  a French newspaper, condemning him for his invention of dynamite, is
  said to have brought about his decision to leave a better legacy after his
  death. The obituary stated Le marchand de la mort est mort ("The
  merchant of death is dead") and went on to say, "Dr. Alfred Nobel,
  who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever
  before, died yesterday." On November 27, 1895, at the Swedish-
  Norwegian Club in Paris, Nobel signed his last will and testament and
  set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Prizes, to be
  awarded annually without distinction of nationality. He died of a stroke
  on December 10, 1896 at Sanremo, Italy. He left 31 million kronor
  (4,223,500 USD1896~103,931,888 USD2007) to fund the prizes.
The first three of these prizes are awarded for eminence in physical
science, chemistry and medical science or physiology; the fourth is for
literary work "in an ideal direction" and the fifth is to be given to the
person or society that renders the greatest service to the cause of
international fraternity, in the suppression or reduction of standing
armies, or in the establishment or furtherance of peace congresses.
The formulation about the literary prize, "in an ideal direction" (i
idealisk riktning in Swedish), is cryptic and has caused much
confusion. For many years, the Swedish Academy interpreted "ideal"
as "idealistic" (idealistisk) and used it as a pretext to not give the prize
to important but less romantic authors, such as Henrik Ibsen, August
Strindberg and Leo Tolstoy. This interpretation has since been revised,
and the prize has been awarded to, for example, Dario Fo and José
Saramago, who definitely do not belong to the camp of literary
There was also quite a lot of room for interpretation by the bodies he
had named for deciding on the physical sciences and chemistry prizes,
given that he had not consulted them before making the will. In his
one-page testament, he stipulated that the money go to discoveries or
inventions in the physical sciences and to discoveries or improvements
in chemistry. He had opened the door to technological awards, but had
not left instructions on how to deal with the distinction between
science and technology. Since the deciding bodies he had chosen were
more concerned with the former, it is not surprising that the prizes
went to scientists and not to engineers, technicians or other inventors.
In a sense, the technological prizes announced recently by the World
Technology Network (not funded by the Nobel foundation) indirectly
fill this gap.
In 2001, his great-grandnephew, Peter, asked the Bank of Sweden to
differentiate its award to economists given "in Alfred Nobel's memory"
from the five other awards. This has caused much controversy whether
the prize for Economics is actually a "Nobel Prize" (see Bank of
Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel).
Ilona Przytocka, kl. III A

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