Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Photo: @nobelprize_org on Instagram

Every year, the Nobel Prize is awarded to people – or groups of people – for having discovered or invented something that has had “the greatest benefit to humankind.” The Nobel season begins every October as the Nobel Committee begins announcing the winners of the prize, which are then handed to the recipients in ceremonies held in Stockholm and Oslo on Dec. 10.

The Nobel Prize was created by a Swedish man named Alfred Nobel. Nobel was fascinated with literature, physics and chemistry and became a chemical engineer like his father. Throughout his years of research, Nobel became known for numerous inventions, most famously for his invention of dynamite. 

Nobel died in 1896, and as a final testament, asked that most of his fortune be used to give prizes to those who have done their best for humanity in the field of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace. The first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901.

The Central Bank of Sweden added a memorial prize in 1968 called The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. Since then, the Nobel Prize has been considered the world’s most prestigious award.

Considering the circumstances of the pandemic, this year’s winners were rather surprising. No individual was awarded a prize in any category for their research in the COVID-19 field of study. Instead, the winners of the chemistry and physiology/medicine categories won for their work in genome editing and the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus, respectively.

The Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to both Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna for their work on the development of Crispr-Cas9 (a genome editing method) while the Nobel Prize in physiology/medicine was awarded to Drs. Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice for their work with Hepatitis C. 

Louise Glück wins the Nobel Prize in Literature. Illustration: @nobelprize_org on Instagram

Other prize winners include Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez, all physicists, who won The Nobel Prize in physics for their further research on black holes which improved our understanding of the universe.

The Nobel Prize in literature was awarded to Louise Glück, one of America’s most famous poets, “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal.” Finally, Paul R. Milgrom and Robert B. Wilson were awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for their invention of new auction formats. 

Among all the Nobel prizes, the Nobel Peace Prize is widely held in the highest regard. Contenders for the Nobel Peace Prize included Swede Greta Thunberg for her work as a climate change activist and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her leadership and strong but empathetic response to New Zealand’s Christchurch massacre.

President Donald Trump was also under consideration for his leadership in brokering the Abraham Accords, resulting in the UAE and Bahrain formally normalizing relations with Israel. The Nobel Peace Prize, however, was finally awarded to the World Food Program for its efforts to combat a surge in global hunger amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While the awards have been announced, the annual ceremonies take place on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. As a result of the pandemic, however, the Nobel Committee has decided to make some changes to the proceedings. The events in Stockholm have been canceled and replaced in favor of a digital ceremony, and the medals themselves will be handed to each winner via their respective embassy.

The Oslo ceremony for the Nobel Peace Prize will continue as scheduled but will be smaller than in most years, with a limited audience. The Nobel committee also announced that each prize will rise to 10 million Swedish krona, 1 million more than in the previous year and the equivalent of $1,145,000 in U.S. currency.

Top photo: The Nobel Peace Prize medal that was given to Rigoberta Menchú in 2011. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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