This weekend I had the great pleasure of visiting the wonderful city of Stockholm. With summer days underway, the gardens dotted around the city are beautiful and in full bloom, the buildings standing with their various paint and brickwork next to the canals and rivers. In Gamla Stan, the old town, the former stock exchange building is situated, now home to the Nobel Museum.
Attached to the ceiling is an old shirt rail machine, which now holds an image and details of every Nobel laureate, cycling around on a 6hr circuit. It was with awe that I looked up at the 911 laureates’ listings before we commenced our guided tour.
The Nobel Prize is awarded each year for Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature and Peace. In more recent years, an Economics prize was added, although this is not formally recognised as a field that Arthur Nobel had wanted to recognise in his will.
One thing that I really felt as I absorbed the facts and artefacts around me was how we can all learn from these amazing minds across the globe and throughout time. Advancements in medicine, such as the famous ‘accidental’ discovery of Penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming in 1928 show us how researching and dedicating our lives to something larger is exceptionally important to benefiting all of humankind. It also shows us how if we work with and observe ‘mistakes’, we can learn to build amazing things from them!
Even sub-stories of the laureates teach us so much. Marie Curie shared the 1903 prize for Physics with her husband Pierre, for their work on measuring radioactivity. However, the prize was originally only meant for Pierre, who asked why his wife should not also win the prize as she had done an equal share of the work. Beyond their discoveries, this act demonstrates respect, equality and strong collaboration between two amazing humans – something we can all learn from.
One interesting fact shared with us was that of the Nobel medals of Max von Laue (winner in 1914 for the Physics prize for his discovery of the diffraction of x-rays by crystals) and James Franck (co-winner of the 1925 Physics prize for the discovery of the laws governing the impact of an electron upon an atom). During WWII, both winners had sent their medals to the Niels Bohr Institute (specialising in Physics) for protection from being seized. During Nazi Germany, it was a crime to send gold out of the country. Had the two laureates’ actions been discovered, they would have faced prosecution. Unfortunately, the army was to inspect the institute. Luckily, Hungarian radiochemist, Charles Georg de Hevesy was at hand. He knew that by mixing nitric acid and hydrochloric acid, he could produce a substance called aqua regia, which was capable of dissolving gold. He placed both medals into a beaker of aqua regia and dissolved them prior to the inspection. As the flask looked unsuspicious and boring, it was left on the shelf of the lab. De Hevesy later extracted the gold and sent it to the Nobel Centre for a recasting of the medals. His creativity and out of the box thinking saved certain prosecution of his fellow celebrated scientists, had the medals been found. De Hevesy later won the Chemistry prize in 1943 for his work on the use of isotopes as tracers in the study of chemical processes.
Finally, I would like to close on a piece about the Peace prize. This was the area I was most interested in, although as it is awarded by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, I suspect the Norwegian Nobel Museum have more details about this particular prize. I feel that all winners of the Peace prize teach us the greatest lessons of all. That even in the face of great adversity, difficulty and war, peaceful people and leaders can be found. We must not let trying or horrific situations beat us down, rather than find the strength to stand up and be a voice against pain, suffering and inequality. Notable winners of the past century include Martin Luther King (1964 winner for his leadership in the US civil rights movement for racial equality), the Dalai Lama (1989 winner for human rights) and Malala (2014 winner, fighting for the right of all children to education).
Through hard work, determination, strength of will and heart, great things can be achieved not only by the oustanding Nobel laureates, but each and every one of us.
Find out more about the Nobel Prize and laureates here: