How Nobel Prize Winners are Chosen

The Nobel Prizes are the most prestigious global awards in the areas in which they are awarded – Peace, Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature, and, since 1969, Economics. Each year, new Nobel Prize winners are chosen through a rigorous review process involving several thousand nominators in each category, as well as a central committee which reviews the nominations and chooses the winner. The original five awards are all administered by the Nobel Foundation; the sixth, in Economics, was created and administered separately by Sveriges Riksbank (and is therefore not technically a true Nobel Prize).

The original five Nobel Prizes were created by Swedish explosives manufacturer Alfred Nobel, a chemist and engineer responsible for the early development of dynamite. Nobel left in his will the funds and directions to create annual awards celebrating scientific achievements (in chemistry, physics, and medicine), literature, and progress towards world peace and international disarmament. Since his death in the 1890s, the awards have now been awarded on an annual basis for over a century, with brief interruptions during the world wars.

The award process is essentially the same for all Nobel Prizes, although each differs in minor respects. A Nobel Committee exists to administer each award, consisting of five members. Most committees are appointed by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. However, the Peace Prize committee is instead selected by the Norwegian Parliament, in accordance with Nobel’s will. This committee then requests nominations for the prize from several qualified people. These nominators generally include scientists working in the field as well as previous Nobel laureates. The Nobel Peace Prize nominator list also includes politicians from several countries, historians, theologians, international law judges, and university executives.

The nominators respond to the committee’s request each year, producing a long list of nominees. In theory, thousands of nominees could be put forward each year, although obviously large numbers of nominators will end up selecting the same prominent individual or individuals. For instance, in 2009 the Nobel Peace Prize nominators selected over two hundred individuals – and this number was a record high.

All of the nominations are then reviewed by the prize committee, which produces a short list of several hundred names. These are then sent back out to a more select group of nominators, who winnow it down to a second short list of over a dozen candidates. This second short list is then reviewed once again by the committee, which selects a winner. Announcements then take place late in the year – for the most part in Stockholm, Sweden, with the exception of the Nobel Peace Prize, which is awarded in Norway by that country’s royal family.