For kids: a different kind of gold medal
Nobel Prizes honor men and women who've made the world a better place.
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In later years, Nobel was distressed when his invention was adopted for military purposes and caused many deaths and injuries. So in 1895, a year before he died, Nobel decided to use his fortune for a good cause. In his will, he left about $4 million (equivalent to over $170 million today) to establish the Nobel Prize. Each award is now worth more than $1 million, although it is often split between two or three people. In addition to the money, each winner also receives a gold medal.Skip to next paragraph
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Dr. Arrhenius's father-in-law was George de Hevesy, a Hungarian scientist who worked in Denmark during World War II. One day, Hevesy was visited by Max von Laue, a German scientist and Nobel Prize winner, who needed help.
This was a dangerous time to be asking for favors because the Nazis were marching across Europe killing people and stealing valuables, such as artworks, jewelry, and precious metals.
"Von Laue had smuggled [his medal] out of Germany while on a lecture trip to Denmark and gave it to Hevesy for safekeeping," explained Dr. Arrhenius. "That was highly illegal and severely punishable."
To protect his friend (and himself) from probable execution if the medal was discovered when the Nazis occupied Denmark, Hevesy placed the medal in a solution of two strong acids called aqua regia, Dr. Arrhenius says. Hevesy watched as the medal began to slowly dissolve and form a green liquid, which he stored on a shelf in his lab. "The Germans raided the lab and stole some silver," said Dr. Arrhenius. "But they did not pay attention to the bottle with the murky green solution!"
Dr. Arrhenius says von Laue was initially angry when he learned his precious medal had been dissolved. But after the war, the gold was recovered, remade into a Nobel medal, and returned to its original owner!
As important as the medal was to Dr. von Laue – and to all the other scientists who have been recognized for their achievements with a Nobel Prize – the award is not just about winning a gold medal or a substantial amount of money. It's a rare opportunity for the scientific community to honor the men and women who have dedicated their lives to making people's lives better.
"I think the Nobel Prize is great," says Dr. Hoffmann, because it's an honor for which "knowledge and wisdom are celebrated."