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Tuesday, October 13, 1998 Published at 02:44 GMT 03:44 UK


The aura of the Nobel Prize

The great international success and reputation enjoyed by the Nobel Prize are largely down to the calibre of its recipients.

Click here to see a selection of Nobel Prize Laureates.

Past winners this century include pioneers in the fields of invention, academia and humanitarian work.

This week, the Nobel Prize Laureates for 1998 will be announced, joining an elite group of more than 650 men and women - among them Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela - whose work "has conferred the greatest benefit on mankind".

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The first prizes were awarded in 1901 and each year the winners reflect the events and progress of the past 12 months.

The scientists whose research led to the anti-impotence wonder drug, Viagra, have already been awarded this year's Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine.

There are six Nobel Prizes awarded every year - for peace, physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and, since 1969, economics.

Although winners are chosen from institutions and organisations all over the world, the origins of the prize are firmly rooted in one country, one establishment and in the legacy of one man.

Dynamite inventor

The Nobel Foundation was founded by a Swedish scholar, inventor and businessman, Alfred Nobel, at the end of the 19th century.

During a lifetime of study, he numbered dynamite among his inventions. He amassed a huge fortune in the oilfields of Baku and other businesses.

The bulk of his estate was left for the establishment of a foundation to award the learned.

More than 90 years later, the Nobel Foundation still resides in Stockholm and presides over the donation of the prizes.

However, it allows the country's most prominent institutions, like the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences and the Karolinska Institute, to carry out the process of recommendations and nominations for the various prizes.

And unlike many international prizes, the Nobel Prize remains a closely guarded secret. No nominations are announced and the winner is told at the same time as the rest of the world.

A lifetime achievement

On a professional front, the Nobel Prize gives its recipients a chance to have their work noticed by the world at large, to expand their research budgets and to enhance the scope of their careers.

The glory is there for those who welcome it, but for some, continuing their work will always take priority to winning awards.

As Dr Richard Feynmann said some years after receiving the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965: "I don't think it is fair or right that a guy should have a reputation just because he won a prize. It should be in terms of what he did accomplish and what he is like."

Others, such as Le Duc Tho, the former Vietnamese leader, and Boris Pasternak, the Russian author, have refused the prize on moral and political grounds.

The Nobel Foundation too, has acted discerningly, withholding prizes on certain years due to candidates' failure to meet what it feels are its standards. But neither does it hold back from allowing more than one winner for each prize.

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