How to win a Nobel Prize

A while back, the BBC’s Future team did the numbers. They looked at all the Nobel prizewinners in all six categories and tried to find the winning formula based on age, birthday, gender, and a number of other criteria including which university they attended.

First discovery: most prizewinners are men—only a handful of women have ever won a Nobel Prize—and married men do better than bachelors. Unsurprisingly, going to a good school helps a lot, with Harvard (US) and Cambridge (UK) coming out on top but also some sterling performances by places like the Ecole Normale Supérieure (France).

The ideal combination, according to the research, also includes being over 60, with a birthday in the spring… and no facial hair.


Albert Fert: Thales’s very own Nobel prizewinner

Albert Fert, scientific director of the CNRS/Thales joint physics unit, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2007 for the discovery of giant magnetoresistance (GMR). He was 69 at the time and married. Plus, he attended the Ecole Normale Supérieure, shaves regularly and was born in the springtime—so he fitted the bill in every respect!


Things you already knew about the Nobel Prize but may have forgotten

The Nobel Prize is a series of awards set up on the death of Alfred Nobel in accordance with his last will and testament. The Swedish-born chemist and industrialist had amassed a huge fortune, much of it from the invention of dynamite. He had no children and left nothing to his closest relatives.

The annual awards ceremony is held on 10 December, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.

How to be a candidate

You can’t just apply for a Nobel Prize—somebody has to nominate you. The nominees are not publicly named, nor are they told that they are being considered for a prize. The prize committees do not release the names of the shortlisted candidates, except the laureates themselves, to the media or the people who nominated them. And all nomination records are sealed for 50 years after the prizes are awarded.

What’s it worth?

The winners receive a medal, a diploma, quite a bit of money and a whole lot of prestige. In each discipline, the prize can be awarded to as many as three people.

The medal

The medals feature an image of Alfred Nobel. Until 1980, they weighed in at 175 g apiece and were struck in 23 carat gold; but now they are made of a gold alloy containing up to 25% silver and plated with 24 carat gold. They’re still worth a lot of money, and over the years a few of them have been stolen.

The diploma

The diploma bears the name of the winner, an illustration and the reason why the Nobel Prize was awarded. The only exception is the Nobel Peace Prize, where no reasons are given.

The award money

The award money for each Nobel Prize depends on the Nobel Foundation’s assets. Last year they were worth just over USD 1 million each, which the winners are free to spend or donate as they wish.