The Nobel Prizes
They’re the most prestigious prizes in the world… the winners get one-and-a-half million dollars … and two people have said “no thanks”. This is your Squiz Kids Shortcut to the Nobel Prizes—the podcast where we dive into the who, what, when, where, why and how of the big news stories. I’m Amanda Bower.
And I’m Bryce Corbett.
Bryce, you might already know this, but every October, a committee in Stockholm, Sweden, awards six prizes for physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, peace, and economics, to people whose work has had the greatest benefit to humanity. Winning a Nobel Prize is a really big deal.
It sure is. Today we’re going to take you through HOW the Nobel Prizes got started, WHO are some of the most famous winners, and WHAT exactly an “Ig Nobel” prize is.
Listen carefully – there’s a Squiz at the end!
Okay Amanda, I know that the Nobel prizes are named after a Swedish man called Alfred Nobel, but tell me more about him.
Well, Alfred Nobel was a chemist, inventor, and businessman in the 1800s. He invented more than 350 things, the most famous being dynamite, and he owned a company that made cannons and other military equipment.
That all made him extremely rich, but in 1888, when his brother died, one newspaper accidentally published a story that Alfred had died. That sloppy journalism made Alfred rethink what he was best known for.
What did the story say?
Okay, the headline was “The Merchant of Death is Dead”, and the first line read: “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”
That was not how he wanted to be remembered. In 1896, when Alfred died, he left almost all of his enormous fortune to create the Nobel Prize foundation. Each year, the foundation was to award five prizes—including a peace prize. Since then, a prize in economics has also been added.
And the winners this year are getting $1.5 million! That’s a big prize.
It sure is. Lots of people are nominated for each prize – you can’t nominate yourself, though. Five independent committees are in charge of going through all those nominees and choosing the winners.
Well, Alfred Nobel certainly managed to change his legacy—that means how you’re remembered after you’ve died. If you say Nobel to almost anyone on the planet, they’ll respond…
Prize! Let’s learn about some of the people WHO have won.
Well, as of the end of 2022, 954 individual people have become Nobel Prize winners. And get this, Bryce… only 60 of them have been women.
Yikes! That’s not even close to half!
Nope. Science, medicine and economics have traditionally been dominated by men… get out there and change that, girls! The first woman to get a Nobel was Marie-Curie, who won with her husband for physics in 1903—although she only got the prize because Pierre Curie found out that HE was getting a prize for the work they did together! He complained and insisted his wife get one, too. After Pierre died, Marie Curie went ahead and won another one, in 1911, for chemistry. Her daughter won a Nobel in Chemistry in 1935, too!
That’s quite a family achievement!
The first Australians to win a Nobel were a family affair, too. Lawrence and William Bragg received the prize for physics in 1915 for their work in x-ray crystallography. They remain the only father and son team to be awarded a Nobel prize, and Lawrence, who was 25 at the time, is still the youngest recipient of a Nobel Prize for science.
Who’s the youngest ever winner overall?
That would be Malala Yousafzai, who was only 17 when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, for her work fighting for the rights of women and girls. And the oldest is the chemistry prize winner from 2019, John Goodenough, who was 97.
And you said two people had won a Nobel Prize, and declined it? Meaning, they said no thanks? To a lot of money and prestige?
That’s right. The French writer Jean-Paul Sartre had a policy of never accepting any awards and honours, so he said ‘non, merci’ to the Nobel for literature in 1964. And Le Duc Tho, a Vietnamese diplomat who was awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for his work trying to end the Vietnam war, refused, saying that peace had not yet been achieved. Although peace had not really been achieved in America in 1964 either, Martin Luther King Jr. decided to accept his Peace Prize, and use it to draw attention to the struggle still going on for civil rights. He gave an amazing acceptance speech, which I’ll put a link to in your episode notes.
He was quite the speechmaker, Dr. King. More of a poet, really. Obviously there are a lot of incredible stories to tell about people who have won these prizes. Do you have a favourite?
Well, two Aussie researchers had a theory that a type of bacteria was causing stomach ulcers. If they were right, they thought it would be simple to cure these terrible ulcers with antibiotics. They experimented on themselves first, by taking a big drink of the bacteria. Sure enough, they got stomach ulcers. Then, they cured them. They won the prize in 2005 for that work.
That is hilarious! Drinking bacteria and then winning the Nobel prize!
Wait until you hear WHAT kind of research wins an IG-Nobel prize.
You know, Amanda, I think I remember reading about the Ig Nobel prizes in September… they’re a parody of the Nobels, in a way, right?
Yes, they’re awarded for real research that first makes people laugh, then makes people think. For example, a big group of scientists in America and Africa won an Ig Nobel for research they did hanging rhinoceroses upside down from a helicopter.
Apparently, rhinos are moved around to breed by putting them to sleep, then hanging them upside down by their feet, and flying them by helicopter to their destination. This research tested whether upside down or on their sides was better for their hearts and lungs. Upside down was the winner.
Give me one more.
Okay, researchers in Spain won the ecology Ig Nobel for analysing the bacteria found in spat out chewing gum.
Ewww. What did they find?
Well, the bacteria from the human mouth sticks around in gum for longer than people thought … so it could actually be used to solve crimes!
If the bad guys chewed gum.
This is the part of the podcast where you get to test how well you’ve been listening…
Question 1) What did two WA researchers drink as part of their Nobel-winning research?
Question 2) Who was the first woman to win a Nobel, and the only woman to win two?
Question 3) What’s the best way to hang a rhino from a helicopter?
That’s all we have time for today. Thanks for joining us as we explored the who, what, how, where, when, and why of the Nobel Prizes.
Now get out there, and have a most excellent day!
Over and out.
- Marie Curie
- Upside Down