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The Progressive Prize

Posted 10/29/2023 by Magnolia McLain

 The Nobel Prize medal is awarded for academic or activism success. photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Alfred Nobel dedicated his life and legacy to rewarding discoveries that have benefited human-kind since 1901 which has been continued to the present day.

Since 1901, 965 individuals and 27 organizations have won a Nobel Prize. Annually, Nobel Prizes are awarded in six different categories: Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Economics. One Nobel Peace Prize is also awarded annually for the promotion of peace. This year, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize was Narges Mohammadi. Other winners from this year were recognized for incredibly impactful research which will improve early detection of lung cancer and the founding research for COVID-19 vaccinations.

 The series of prizes was named after Alfred Nobel and were first awarded in 1901. Nobel was born in Stockholm, Sweden, and moved to Russia to pursue a career in chemistry in 1842. In 1866, Nobel accidentally mixed nitroglycerine with a local sample of very fine, sponge-like sand (called kieselgur, the skeletal remains of ancient amoebas) and created dynamite, which he patented in 1867. When Nobel died, his remaining fortune was around 31.5  million dollars (worth nearly 116 million dollars today), which, according to his will, he wished to be, “Annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” This was driven by Nobel’s recognition that his invention of dynamite, a blasting explosive, had negative and gruesome impacts on humankind. The American Chemical Society states, “Nobel wanted his inventions to help people. Instead, dynamite earned money by hurting people and damaging buildings during war.”

The purpose of the awards is to achieve Nobel’s vision of a better world. The official page for the Nobel Prize states, “He believed that people are capable of helping to improve society through knowledge, science and humanism. This is why he created a prize that would reward the discoveries that have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.” Since Nobel’s death, outreach organizations have been founded to spread recognition of the prizes and to inspire people to work towards winning one.

The prize itself features a medal, designed by Gustav Vigeland and manufactured by the mint of Norway, Det Norske Myntverket. Originally, the medal was composed of 23 carat gold. Since 1980, however, this has been lowered to 18 carats plated with 24 carat gold. The modern 18-carat medal is worth roughly $10,000, but Nobel Prize medals have been sold for up to $103.5 million, according to the National Public Radio. Winners of the Nobel Prize are also awarded a monetary prize, which is currently eleven million Swedish Krona (SEK) or slightly over one million USD as of October 23rd.

The winners of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2023 were Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman for their research of mRNA which led to the first mRNA vaccination for COVID-19. This research, which was done at the University of Pennsylvania and published in 2005, contributed to the development of the COVID vaccines by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna. The 2023 Physics Nobel Prize was awarded to Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L’Huillier for, “conducting experiments that produced pulses of light so short that they were measured in attoseconds, or one-billionth of one-billionth of a second.” This experimental research provides imaging within molecules and atoms which has the potential to advance the early detection of lung cancer. The prize in chemistry was awarded to Moungi Bawendi, Louis Brus, and Alexei Ekimov this year for the discovery and synthesis of quantum dots. Quantum dots are particles with properties that must be determined by quantum phenomena due to their incredibly small size. The research and technology that this group developed will hopefully lead to the development of, “flexible electronics, tiny sensors, thinner solar cells and encrypted quantum communication.” Jon Fosse was this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was recognized primarily because of his talent as a playwright, but he has also written novels, short stories, poetry, children’s books, and essays, with his work being translated into roughly 50 languages. The 2023 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Narges Mohammadi, an Iranian rights activist chosen from 351 nominees. Mohammadi is “best known for her fight for freedom and against oppression of Iranian women.” The final prize announced for 2023 was the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel which was awarded to Claudia Goldin, “for having advanced our understanding of women’s labour market outcomes,” according to the official Nobel Prize organization.

The vision of Alfred Nobel was to incentivize hard work that benefits all of human-kind. The achievement of a Nobel Prize is worked towards by scientists and activists alike and the impact of the discoveries of the 2023 Nobel Prize winners will do just that. Every factor that led the nominees to become a Nobel Prize winner will expand the possibilities in society and realize Nobel’s dream of a better world.