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Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is one of five original Nobel Prizes awarded annually - the Chemistry prize being awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden. It was first awarded in 1901 to Jacobus Henricus van ‘t Hoff “in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by the discovery of the laws of chemical dynamics and osmotic pressure in solutions”.



Chemistry was the most important science for Alfred Nobel's own work. The development of his inventions as well as the industrial processes he employed were based upon chemical knowledge. Chemistry was the second prize area that Nobel mentioned in his will.



"The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: /- - -/ one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement..." (Excerpt from the will of Alfred Nobel.)



The Nobel Committee and process in chemistry

Although the Nobel Committees are supposed to have five members according to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation, the Committee for Chemistry widened its expertise in 1998 adding five adjunct members with the same voting rights as the regular members. Present rules allow two re-elections so that a member’s maximum total time on the Committee is nine years maximum. 



The Nobel Committee starts the process of selection by sending out invitations to nominate in the autumn of the preceding year and only persons that have been nominated before January 31 can be considered for the Nobel Prize in that year. Recipients of these invitations for Physics and Chemistry are: 1) Swedish and foreign members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; 2) members of the Nobel Committees for Physics and for Chemistry; 3) Nobel Laureates in Physics and Chemistry; 4) professors in Physics and Chemistry in Scandinavian universities and at Karolinska Institutet; 5) professors in these subjects in a number of universities outside Scandinavia, selected on a rotation basis by the Academy of Sciences; and 6) other scientists that the Academy chooses to invite.



In the first few years only about 10 scientists were nominated but this has risen to 250-350 in recent years. The committee does not put much weight on the number of nominations that a given candidate receives unless it is clear that they are independent nominations from different universities in different countries. The same candidate is often nominated for chemistry and physics or for chemistry and medicine, which is why there are joint meetings between the Chemistry, Medicine, Physiology or Physics Committees. 



Nobel’s will stated that the prize should be awarded for work done during the preceding year. The statutes governing the committee work interpreted this to mean the most recent results or for older work if the significance has only recently been demonstrated. It is most likely this rule that prevented Stanislao Cannizzaro from receiving one of the first Nobel Prizes as his work on the periodic table was done in the middle of the 19th century .







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Steve Mirsky
October 9, 2019
Scientific American
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