One of the most important awards anyone can receive is called the Nobel Prize (pronounced no-BELL).Each year on December 10th, awards are given for outstanding achievement in six subject areas: physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, economics, and peace. The Prizes honor people who have done important work in these areas.Each Prize winner receives a medal made of gold, a diploma, and a sum of money.The medal is worth about ten thousand dollars.The sum of money is around a million dollars. The prize in each area may go to a single person or be shared by two or three people who worked together. If more than one person wins a prize, the money is split between them.The Peace Prize is the only one that can go to people or a whole organization. In 1999, for example, an organization called Doctors Without Borders won for helping people on several continents.Where does the money for all these Prizes come from? And who decides who gets them? To answer those questions, we must go back to the 1800s and a man named Alfred Nobel.Nobel was born on October 21, 1833 in Stockholm, Sweden. He was very smart and loved to study, particularly chemistry and languages. He became fluent in Swedish, French, Russian, English, German, and Italian. He was a chemist, an engineer, and an inventor, and received more than 350 patents for his discoveries and inventions.Nobel was very interested in explosives. He invented a detonator in 1863 and a blasting cap in 1865. These two items were used to set off larger explosives.In 1864, Nobel’s younger brother, Emil, was killed by an explosion of nitroglycerin, which was very unstable and if not carefully handled could often blow up accidentally.Nobel worked to make nitroglycerin safer and as a result, invented dynamite, which was not just safer, but easier to use.He became rich, lived in Paris, France, and owned companies in the United States and Europe.There is a story about why he used his money to establish the Nobel Prizes. Some people believe the story is true and some do not. It goes like this:When Alfred’s older brother, Ludvig, died in 1888, several newspapers made a mistake. Thinking it was Alfred who had died, they published unkind articles about him saying what an awful thing he had done in inventing dynamite and other explosives.When Alfred read the articles, it made him want to do something good, something that he would be remembered for instead of explosives.Whether the story is true or not, Alfred did change his will in 1895, leaving most of his fortune to establish the Nobel Prizes.He died on December 10, 1896, from a stroke. The first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901. Those who win Nobel Prizes are called laureates (lah-re-EHTS).Each year thousands of people and organizations are nominated for the Nobel Prizes. The laureates are decided on by special Nobel committees in Sweden.It is sometimes difficult to understand exactly what someone did to win a Nobel Prize. This year, for example, three men – Alain Aspect, John F. Clauser, and Anton Zeilinger – won the Nobel Prize for Physics. The reason? “Experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science.”Unless you are a physicist, it’s hard to know what any of that means. But the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences knew and decided it was important enough to win a Nobel Prize.Not all Prizes are that difficult to understand. This year’s Prize for Literature went to a French writer named Annie Ernaux. Her Prize says that her novels are “admirable and enduring.”So far, there have been 989 Nobel laureates. Some of them are famous enough that you may already know their names and will enjoy reading more about them. Here are a few and the Prize they won:Marie Curie (Physics and Chemistry)Ivan Pavlov (Medicine)Guglielmo Marconi (Physics)Albert Einstein (Physics)George Bernard Shaw (Literature)Jane Addams (Peace)Pearl S. Buck (Literature)Ernest Hemingway (Literature)Martin Luther King, Jr. (Peace)Bob Dylan (Literature)Mother Teresa (Peace)Barack Obama (Peace)Fun Facts•  Sometimes there is a short gap between when a person did the work worthy of a Nobel and the time they are awarded the Prize. Often, though, there is a much longer gap – as long as 20 to 30 years!•  Each year, many people are nominated for Nobel Prizes, but few receive it. The list of people who are nominated but don’t win is kept secret for 50 years. Just the winners are announced.•  Nobel Prizes are only given to people who are alive. In 2011, a Canadian doctor, Ralph Steinman, received the Prize for Medicine. The Nobel committee didn’t know when they announced his name that he had died a few days earlier. The committee let him be the winner anyway.•  Nobel Prizes are awarded on December 10, because that is the day Alfred Nobel died.•  Four U.S. Presidents have won the Prize for Peace: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama.

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