For kids: a different kind of gold medal
Nobel Prizes honor men and women who've made the world a better place.
Roald Hoffmann can still recall the morning of Oct. 19, 1981, when an announcement came over the radio: He had just won the Nobel Prize for chemistry. "I was fixing my bike in the garage," the professor said from his office at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "My first thought was I had better call my mother before the phone starts ringing!"Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Dr. Hoffmann won the award for using a set of mathematical rules, called quantum mechanics, to explain the nature of chemical reactions.
For most people, topics such as quantum mechanics probably won't arouse as much interest as, say, the Super Bowl or NASCAR racing. But for scientists with a passion for such things, the Nobel Prize announcements each October are an exciting time.
British scientist Frederick Sanger received news of his Nobel Prize win in 1958. Twenty-two years later, Dr. Sanger stunned the world and won a second Nobel Prize. Only three other people have been awarded the prestigious prize twice.
Dr. Sanger won his awards for work with proteins and nucleic acids, two classes of important compounds in cells. Today, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridgeshire, England, is named in honor of Dr. Sanger and continues his research in molecular biology and genetics.
"It is, of course, very exciting to have such an important recognition of my work," writes Dr. Sanger in a letter from his home in Cambridgeshire. "But the real pleasure was in the work itself. Scientific research is like an exploration of a voyage of discovery [with] scientists working together as a team for the good of humanity."
Which is precisely why Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel created the awards more than 100 years ago. Today, the Nobel Prize recognizes great achievements in the fields of chemistry, physics, and physiology/medicine, as well as in literature, peace, and economics.
Nobel was able to fund the award from the fortune he made by inventing dynamite. By mixing highly unstable nitroglycerin into a paste with a finely powdered sand, Nobel found it could be handled more safely. It was widely used in mining to blast rocks and carve out tunnels.