Saturday, October 13, 2007

Alfred Nobel, Dynamite and Nitroglycerine

Just for the record, in case anyone doesn't know, the Nobel Prizes are the legacy of one Alfred Nobel, scientist, inventor and benefactor whose estate sponsors the Nobel Prizes.

From Deutsche Welle:

Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm in 1833. Together with his father, who was an engineer, he developed the explosive nitroglycerine, which proved a commercial success.

Despite the danger of the project -- Nobel's brother Emil was killed in an experiment in 1864 -- he continued his research, patenting what he called dynamite in 1867. The invention proved very useful in the construction industry and Nobel traveled the world selling his product. When not on the road, he diligently conducted research and registered 355 patents in his name.

Nobel's talent as both a scientist and a businessman allowed him to amass a considerable fortune. He was also fluent in several languages, wrote poetry and drama, and had a deep interest in philosophy and literature.

How did the Nobel Prize come about?

After his death in 1896, the opening of Nobel's will caused a considerable stir: He had left the majority of his money to the establishment of "prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind" in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace.

From the Nobel website:

Nobel took a keen interest in social questions, and is known to have held radical views on many contemporary problems. His scientific and industrial activities took him to most European and American countries. He lived in Paris for a number of years, but planned to return to Sweden and settle down for good at Karlskoga, where he owned property. On 10 December, 1896, before the plans could be realised, he died at his home in San Remo in Italy.

Alfred Nobel was a lonely man and was often in poor health. He was very modest, often appearing shy to other people. Above all, he was engrossed in scientific ideas and in the practical management of his many European enterprises, and devoted himself night and day to his studies and work. His dream was to be of service to mankind.

In January 1897 it was learned that he had left the bulk of his considerable estate to a fund, the interest on which was to be awarded annually to the persons whose work had been of the greatest benefit to mankind. The statutes of the foundation which administered the fund - the Nobel Foundation - were adopted on 29 June 1900.

Public reaction to Al Gore's being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize ranges from congratulatory to sarcastic. The public polarization of the response is a reflection of how divided we have become as a society. Lost in the extremes is any sense that peace is better than the alternatives. Too many people seem to thrive on conflict. Where none exists they figure a way to get it going.

Yesterday I listened to snide remarks about Jimmy Carter and Yassar Arafat, others who have received the Nobel Peace Prize. Maligning Carter has become a cottage industry for talk show hosts who would have us believe that it is okay to show disrespect to an elderly former president who insists on continuing a Quixotic attempt to leave the world better off than he found it. Memories of Camp David are gone. No one mentions that even today both Washington and Tel Aviv are doing everything possible to promote and support Fatah against Hamas in the Palestinian camp, forgetting (or never figuring out) that Fatah is heir to the PLO, Arafat's political/military organization.

The depth of public ignorance and disrespect for the Nobel Prize is an embarrassment to me.


Anonymous said...

Why did gore get teh nobel prize?

Hoots said...

From the Nobel site:
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 is to be shared, in two equal parts, between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.
By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 to the IPCC and Al Gore, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is seeking to contribute to a sharper focus on the processes and decisions that appear to be necessary to protect the world's future climate, and thereby to reduce the threat to the security of mankind. Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond man's control.