I’m sure Alfred Nobel was a fine chap who thought deeply about things. Well, he definitely did after his obituary was published erroneously (as in before he died, so he was able to read it), naming him the “merchant of death”. It’s said that it was seeing this assessment of his life’s work that caused him to invest in something a bit less death-y: the establishment of the most renowned prizes of modern times.

The Nobel prizes were set up in Nobel’s Last Will and Testament. Throughout the description of the awards set-up he refers to them as being made “to the person who shall have…”, i.e. the decision should be made based only on the quality and importance of the work. However, there’s a little more clarity at the end of this paragraph, with the sentence “It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be a Scandinavian or not.”

So you don’t have to be Scandinavian, but you’ll probably be a he.

And wouldn’t you know, it turns out that this is indeed the case. Out of 911 Nobel laureates, 48 are female (as of 2016). That’s 94.73% he, 5.27% she.

In our next project we want to tell the stories of some of the women who have been overlooked by the Nobel prize circus, specifically in the sciences. We have the names of a few: Rosalind Franklin, Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, Lise Meitner, Vera Rubin, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Louise Chow, Marietta Blau, Chien-Shiung Wu… Have we missed any? Who should be included in this roll-call of scientific achievement by women that has gone unacknowledged by Nobel?

Alfred Nobel, pondering
Yes, but what’s he *really* thinking?

One thought on “No-belles?

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