The Nobel Museum

13 May

Nobel MuseumThe Nobel Museum

So, as it turns out, I found the Nobel Museum to be incredibly fascinating. I’m a sucker for a decent science story. The Nobel Museum is one of the more famous places in Stockholm – the Swedish Academy of Sciences is located on the second floor of the building and they host the Nobel Prize Winners every year.

Alfred Nobel’s probably one of the most famous Swedes ever. He invented dynamite and was a consummate businessman, making him fabulously wealthy. Nobel never married or had children, so he dedicated his fortune to fund the awards that we know as the Nobel Prize. His one page will stipulated that a prize be given in physics, chemistry, and medicine/anatomy each for eminence, a prize in literature for work “in an idealist direction”, and a prize in peace for the person who gives the greatest service to international fraternity, reducing standing armies, or initiating peace congresses. Interestingly, in a time of severe nationalism, Nobel said that the prizes would be given regardless of nationality.

The museum itself is really quite small, but full of fascinating pieces of history. Not only do they have artifacts from Alfred Nobel’s life, they also have items donated by the Nobel winners themselves. Also, Nobel winners are encouraged to sign the bottom of the museum cafe chairs when they show up for Nobel Week. (The museum is also jokingly the only place they are not given champagne for their time in Stockholm.) You can’t see Barack Obama’s signature since the Peace Prize is determined by the Norwegian Parliament and handed out in Oslo.

nobel prize

Also, I wanted to take this moment to share my absolute favorite Nobel Prize story. I first head about it in “Periodic Tales: the Elements from Arsenic to Zinc” (which I totally recommend). When Germany invaded Denmark in 1940, a chemist named George de Hevsey at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen had a problem. Not only was his country invaded, but he had two pesky Nobel Prizes hanging around in the lab. See, his colleagues Max von Laue and James Franck had each won a Nobel Prize in physics (1914 and 1925 respectively), but the German government had prohibited Germans from accepting or keeping a prize after a jailed peace activist won in 1935. Having taken it out of the country was just adding to the crime, since it was illegal to take gold out of Germany at the time.

In order to protect the Jewish physicists and to keep the prizes from being confiscated, de Hevesy dissolved the gold in aqua regia. The resulting solution was left on a shelf in the laboratory for the remainder of the war, ignored by the Nazis as a common chemical solution. de Hevesy returned to the Institute after the war and found the solution completely undisturbed, so he precipitated the gold out of the acid and returned it to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Nobel Foundation. They re-cast the medals and presented them to Laue and Franck a second time. Pretty cool, huh?

Science, man.

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One Response to “The Nobel Museum”

  1. Mark May 13, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

    way cool

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