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When Alfred Nobel signed his will in 1895, he specified that the bulk of his estate be spent on awarding prizes for those who made significant contributions in one of five fields. These fields are chemistry, physics, medicine, literature and peace.
A sixth Nobel Prize was created in 1969 in the field of economics. This award is not technically a Nobel Prize because the Bank of Sweden finances funds for the award. However, some of the committee nominating and selecting a winner in mathematics have ties to other committees that grant the Prize to those in other science branches.
Each Prize category has its own nominating and voting committee, and prizes tend to be awarded yearly. However, Nobel only stipulated awards once every five years. Notable omissions of the award occurred during WWII. Nazi occupation of Norway interfered with Norway’s ability to select and award candidates from 1939 through 1943. As well, no Noble Prizes for Peace were awarded in 1966 and 1967.
The first winner of the Nobel Prize in physics was William Conrad Roentgen in 1902. He was awarded for his work in the development of x-ray technology and to this day is considered the “father” of modern radiology. Recent winners of the Nobel Prize in physics include Roy Glauber of the US, who won in 2005 for his studies in optical coherence. Past physics winners have been awarded for discovering the neutron, positron, for advancing microscopic studies, and for the development of the wireless telegraph.
In chemistry, Jacobus Henricus van't Hoff won the first Nobel Prize for his study of osmotic pressure in liquids. Paul Berg was recognized in 1980 for his studies and descriptions of recombinant DNA. Other winners in chemistry have studied the properties of RNA, developed nuclear magnetic resonance, and studied depletion of the ozone layer.
Emil Adolf von Behring won the first Nobel Prize in medicine for his work in developing a treatment for diphtheria. Other notable prizewinners in this field include scientists who have developed antibiotics, defined the purpose of the thyroid gland, identified blood types, and described or proposed cures for various viruses.
In literature, Sully Prudhomme from France won the first Nobel Prize. Other honorees include Pearl Buck, Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Pablo Neruda. Boris Pasternak and Jean-Paul Sartre both won for Literature but declined to accept the award.
The Nobel Prize in Peace is the only one to be issued in Oslo, Norway, instead of Stockholm Sweden. Why the Peace Prize is treated differently in this way, is left to speculation. The first award was split between Jean Henri Dunant who established the Red Cross, and Frédéric Passy. Peace prize winners in Peace include Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Schweitzer, Mikhail Gorbachev, Anwar Al-Sadat and Jimmy Carter.