Strange stories about Nobel laureates

I found some strange stories about Nobel laureates.

1. Robert Lucas is winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in economics for his work on the theory of “rational expectations,” split his $1 million prize with his ex-wife.

Robert Lucas
Robert Lucas

If there were a Nobel Prize for Foresight or Timing, she should be nominated, based on a clause in their divorce settlement from seven years earlier: “Wife shall receive 50 per cent of any Nobel Prize.” The clause expired on October 31, 1995. Had Lucas won any year after, he would have kept the whole million.

2. Physicist Lise Meitner, whose work helped lead to the discovery of nuclear fission, was reportedly nominated for the Nobel Prize 13 times without ever winning (though nominations are kept secret, so we don’t know for sure).

Lise Meitner
Lise Meitner

This makes her the Dynasty of the Nobel Prize scene — that show was nominated for 24 Emmy Awards but never won. Other analogies we’d accept: The Color Purple (11 Oscar nominations in 1985, no wins), the Buffalo Bills or Minnesota Vikings (4 Super Bowl losses each without a victory) and William Jennings Bryan (three-time Democratic nominee for President, losing twice to McKinley and once to Taft.)

3. People who refused the Nobel Prize:

(i) Le Duc Tho was awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize with Henry Kissinger for their roles in brokering a Vietnam cease fire at the Paris Peace Accords.

Le Duc Tho
Le Duc Tho
 Le Duc Tho with Henry Kissinger
Le Duc Tho with Henry Kissinger

Citing the absence of actual peace in Vietnam, Tho declined to accept.

(ii) Jean Paul Sartre waved off the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Jean Paul Sartre
Jean Paul Sartre

His explanation: “It is not the same thing if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre or if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize winner. A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honorable form.”

(iii) Afraid of Soviet retribution if he travelled to Stockholm to claim his prize, Boris Pasternak declined to accept the 1958 Prize in Literature, which he’d earned for Doctor Zhivago.

Boris Pasternak
Boris Pasternak

The Academy refused his refusal. “This refusal, of course, in no way alters the validity of the award. There remains only for the Academy, however, to announce with regret that the presentation of the Prize cannot take place.” Yevgeny Pasternak accepted the prize on behalf of his deceased father in 1989.

(iv) Swedish poet Erik Axel Karlfeldt won Nobel for Literature in 1918.

Erik Axel Karlfeldt
Erik Axel Karlfeldt

He did not accept because he was secretary of the Swedish Academy, which awards the prize. He was given the award posthumously in 1931. This was allowed because the nomination was made before Karlfeldt died — no candidate may be proposed after death.

4. In 2007, 90-year-old professor Leonid Hurwicz became the oldest person to ever win (one-third of the Prize in Economics); at 87,

Leonid Hurwiczwriter Doris Lessing became the oldest woman (Literature).

 Doris Lessing
Doris Lessing

5. DNA expert Kary Mullis — 1993 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry — was scheduled to be a defense witness in O.J. Simpson’s murder trial.

Kary Mullis
Kary Mullis

However, Simpson’s lawyer Barry Scheck felt the prosecution’s DNA case was already essentially destroyed, and he didn’t want Mullis’ personal life to distract jurors (he’d expressed an affinity for LSD.)

6. Big names who never won:

Dmitri Mendeleev, Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, Henrik Ibsen, Joan Robinson, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Jules-Henri Poincaré, Raymond Damadian and Mahatma Gandhi.

Dmitri Mendeleev
Dmitri Mendeleev
Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein
Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen
James Joyce
James Joyce
Joan Robinson
Joan Robinson
 Jules-Henri Poincaré
Jules-Henri Poincaré
Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy
Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi
Marcel Proust
Marcel Proust
Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla
Raymond Damadian
Raymond Damadian
Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison
Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf

7. Winners without the greatest reputations:

(i) Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, who won in 1976 for his research in human slow-virus infections, spent 19 months in jail after pleading guilty in 1997 to charges of child molestation.

Daniel Carleton Gajdusek
Daniel Carleton Gajdusek

(ii) Johannes Fibiger won in 1926 after discovering parasitic worms cause cancer — a breakthrough that turned out to not be true.

Johannes Fibiger
Johannes Fibiger

(iii) Yasser Arafat shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.

Yasser Arafat
Yasser Arafat
Shimon Peres
Shimon Peres

This decision caused Nobel Committee member Kare Kristiansen to resign.

Yitzhak Rabin
Yitzhak Rabin

“What consequences will result,” he asked at the time, “when a terrorist with such a background is awarded the world’s most prestigious prize?”

(iv) William Shockley won for Physics in 1956 for his role in the invention of the semiconductor, but his support of the eugenics movement alienated the scientific community.

William Shockley
William Shockley

Shockley also donated sperm to the Repository for Germinal Choice, a sperm bank developed to spread humanity’s best genes.

8. As part of his divorce settlement, Einstein’s Nobel Prize money went to his ex-wife, Mileva Maric.

Mileva Maric with einstein
Mileva Maric with einstein

9. The Curie family is a Nobel Prize machine, winning five: Pierre and Marie for Physics in 1901;

Pierre Curie with Marie
Pierre Curie with Marie

Marie solo for Chemistry in 1911; daughter Irene and her husband Frédéric Joliot-Curie for Chemistry in 1935;

Frédéric Joliot with Irene Curie
Frédéric Joliot with Irene Curie

and Henry Labouisse — Irene’s daughter Eve’s second husband — accepted on behalf of UNICEF in 1965. No family has won more.

Henry Labouisse (left)
Henry Labouisse (left)

10. Marie Curie’s second prize was marred by a scandal. Then a widow, Curie had an affair with a married scientist, Paul Langevin — a former pupil of Pierre Curie.

 Paul Langevin
Paul Langevin

Love letters were involved, eventually leading to a duel between Langevin and the editor of the newspaper that had printed them (no shots were actually fired.) According to NobelPrize.org, when it was suggested that Curie not accept the prize, she wrote a shrewd letter, “which pointed out that she had been awarded the Prize for her discovery of radium and polonium, and that she could not accept the principle that appreciation of the value of scientific work should be influenced by slander concerning a researcher’s private life.”

11. Singing support — While there’s no evidence the Nobel judges can be swayed by theme songs, that hasn’t stopped Loriana Lana from composing one for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

 Loriana Lana
Loriana Lana

“Peace Can” includes the lyrics, “Silvio forever will be / Silvio is reality / Silvio forever! /Silvio gives us trust.”

12. Alfred Nobel — inventor of dynamite — may have been inspired to create the Nobel Prize after a premature obituary in a French newspaper called him a “merchant of death.”

Alfred Nobel
Alfred Nobel

13. Nobel died on December 10, 1896. The formal awards ceremony is held in Stockholm each year on the anniversary of his death. The first awards show took place on December 10, 1901.

Pics courtesy: Google

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