What are the Different Categories for Nobel Prizes?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

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.

Physics is one of the categories in which a Nobel Prize is awarded.
Physics is one of the categories in which a Nobel Prize is awarded.

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.

Noble Prizes have been awarded in medicine for the development of antibiotics and finding cures for viruses.
Noble Prizes have been awarded in medicine for the development of antibiotics and finding cures for viruses.

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.

Rudyard Kipling was a recipient of a Nobel Prize in literature.
Rudyard Kipling was a recipient of a Nobel Prize in literature.

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.

The development of the technology used in MRI machines and other forms of diagnostic medicine won a Noble Prize in chemistry.
The development of the technology used in MRI machines and other forms of diagnostic medicine won a Noble Prize in chemistry.

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.

Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway.
Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway.

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.

One of the medals awarded to Nobel Prize winners.
One of the medals awarded to Nobel Prize winners.

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.

Literature is one of the Nobel Prize categories.
Literature is one of the Nobel Prize categories.

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.

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919.
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919.
Jean-Paul Sartre won the Novel Prize for literature, but declined to accept the award.
Jean-Paul Sartre won the Novel Prize for literature, but declined to accept the award.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

anon1001951

"Other science branches" implies that economics is a science - a deliberate distortion the presenters of this pseudo-nobel positively encourage.

Economics is a branch of politics, not science. Like other branches of politics, it uses science and mathematics when it fits the economist's political views and ignores them when they don't.

Calling the banker's economics prize a Nobel is an insult to real scientists.

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