Alfred Nobel, the reclusive inventor of dynamite, probably had little idea of the explosive impact his posthumous wishes would have on society.
Nobel, who died in 1896, willed most of his considerable wealth–garnered from his groundbreaking 1866 invention–to the founding of several international prizes. The prizes were intended to honor those who confer benefit to mankind by promoting peace or by contributing to the fields of physics, chemistry, or physiology or medicine (the economics award was founded later, in 1968). Finally, after some legal wrangling by Nobel’s family, the first prizes were awarded in 1901. They attracted considerable interest from their inception; in those days, such a large donation to scientific or philanthropic causes was quite rare. But what exactly does the modern-day Nobel Prize signify?
Winners spoke of the variety of ways in which the Nobels have had an impact on their lives, including greater freedom in the lab and prestige from their peers. For such studies as the structures of globular proteins for example, and boosting their confidence in young careers. However, the bright public spotlight that accompanies the prize can have a downside. The increased attention, has opened up some laureates to unfavorable public scrutiny. William Shockley, the 1956 winner in physics for co-inventing the transistor, for example, was known for publicly espousing what many believed to be racist theories. Just recently, the always outspoken double-helix codiscoverer James Watson reportedly stunned an audience of students and faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, with racially oriented comments about a biochemical link between exposure to sunlight and sexual urges.1
Also a much more potentially undesirable public attention given to laureates from Nobel-poor countries. Citing the 2000 chemistry co-winner Hideki Shirakawa, one of the few Japanese laureates. Research motivates, driven by curiosity and color and controlled by money,” Alan G. MacDiarmid, one of this year’s chemistry Nobel prize winners. MacDiarmid won for his helping to discover and develop conductive polymers. A simple love of colors, played a major role in his love of chemistry and even in the initial study of the first conducting polymer, polyacetylene. What will your inspiration be ?
Article credit: TheScientist
Photo credit: Space Safety Magazine