Alfred Nobel and the prizes named after him

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Born in Stockholm in 1833 of Swedish parents, Alfred Nobel moved with his family to St. Petersburg, then the capital of Russia, at the age of

nine. There his energetic and inventive father soon acquired a strong and respected position as an inventor and industrialist. Nobel

subsequently lived in several countries and ultimately came to regard himself as a citizen of the world. Even so, he never gave up his Swedish


By virtue of the education he received in many countries, Nobel read, spoke and wrote fluently in five European languages: Swedish, Russian,

English, French and German. His numerous handwritten letters demonstrate his remarkable proficiency in all of them. He perfected his French

when sent to Paris by his father in his late teens to study chemistry. His letters in French are particularly elegant. Those in English sometimes

bear traces of the early nineteenth-century style generally associated with Byron and Shelley (his two favourite poets) and are remarkably free

of grammatical and idiomatic errors.

To his mother he always wrote in Swedish, which is also the language of the will he composed in Paris. The

fields embraced by the prizes stipulated by the will reflect Nobel's personal interests. While he provided no prizes for architects, artists,

composers or social scientists, he was generous to those working in physics, chemistry, physiology and medicine--the subjects he knew best

himself, and in which he expected the greatest advances.

Throughout his life he suffered from poor health and often took cures at watering places, "less to drink the water than to rest." But he expected

great improvements in medicine, and the profession has since realized many of them. Once he employed a young Swedish physiologist in Paris

to test his own theories on blood transfusions. Although these efforts were not successful, problems related...