Facts on the Nobel Prize in Chemistry

On 27 November 1895, Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament, giving the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes, the Nobel Prizes. As described in Nobel's will one part was dedicated to "the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement". Learn more about the Nobel Prize in Chemistry from 1901 to 2015.


Number of Nobel Prizes in Chemistry

107 Nobel Prizes in Chemistry have been awarded since 1901. It was not awarded on eight occasions: in 1916, 1917, 1919, 1924, 1933, 1940, 1941 and 1942.

Why were the Chemistry Prizes not awarded in those years? In the statutes of the Nobel Foundation it says: "If none of the works under consideration is found to be of the importance indicated in the first paragraph, the prize money shall be reserved until the following year. If, even then, the prize cannot be awarded, the amount shall be added to the Foundation's restricted funds." During World War I and II, fewer Nobel Prizes were awarded.

Shared and Unshared Nobel Prizes in Chemistry

63 Chemistry Prizes have been given to one Laureate only.
23 Chemistry Prizes have been shared by two Laureates.
21 Chemistry Prizes have been shared between three Laureates.

Why is that? In the statutes of the Nobel Foundation it says: "A prize amount may be equally divided between two works, each of which is considered to merit a prize. If a work that is being rewarded has been produced by two or three persons, the prize shall be awarded to them jointly. In no case may a prize amount be divided between more than three persons."

Number of Nobel Laureates* in Chemistry

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to 172 Laureates 1901-2015. As Frederick Sanger has been awarded twice, there are 171 individuals who have received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry since 1901.

Nobel Laureate Birthdays

Among the Nobel Laureates, the two most common dates for birthdays are 21 May and 28 February.

Average Age

The average age of all Chemistry Laureates between 1901 and 2015 is 58 years.

Youngest Chemistry Laureate

To date, the youngest Nobel Laureate in Chemistry is Frédéric Joliot, who was 35 years old when he was awarded the Chemistry Prize in 1935, together with his wife, Irène Joliot-Curie.

Oldest Chemistry Laureate

The oldest Nobel Laureate in Chemistry to date is John B. Fenn, who was 85 years old when he was awarded the Chemistry Prize in 2002.

Female Nobel Laureates in Chemistry

Of the 168 individuals awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, four are women so far. Two of four women, Marie Curie and Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, were awarded with unshared Chemistry Prizes.

Posthumous Nobel Prizes in Chemistry

There have been no posthumous Nobel Prizes in Chemistry. From 1974, the Statutes of the Nobel Foundation stipulate that a Nobel Prize cannot be awarded posthumously, unless death has occurred after the announcement of the Nobel Prize. Before 1974, the Nobel Prize has only been awarded posthumously twice: to Dag Hammarskjöld (Nobel Peace Prize 1961) and Erik Axel Karlfeldt (Nobel Prize in Literature 1931).

Family Nobel Laureates in Chemistry

The Curies were the most successful "Nobel Prize family". The husband-and-wife partnership of Marie Curie and Pierre Curie were awarded the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics. Marie Curie herself was awarded the Nobel Prize a second time, receiving the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Marie and Pierre Curie's eldest daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie, was awarded the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, together with her husband, Frédéric Joliot. The younger daughter, Ève Curie, worked for the UNICEF and was married to Henry R. Labouisse. He accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of UNICEF in 1965.

Forced to Decline the Nobel Prize

Two Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have been forced by authorities to decline the Nobel Prize. Adolf Hitler forbade three German Nobel Laureates from receiving the Nobel Prize - two of whom were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Richard Kuhn in 1938 and Adolf Butenandt in 1939. The third person, Gerhard Domagk was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1939. All of them could receive the Nobel Prize Diploma and Medal later, but not the prize amount.

Chemistry Laureates and their Fields

The most common research field for Nobel Laureates in Chemistry is biochemistry. It is the field for 50 Nobel Laureates.

The Nobel Medal for Chemistry

The Nobel Medal for Chemistry was designed by Swedish sculptor and engraver Erik Lindberg and represents Nature in the form of a goddess resembling Isis, emerging from the clouds and holding in her arms a cornucopia. The veil which covers her cold and austere face is held up by the Genius of Science.

The Nobel Diplomas

Each Nobel Diploma is a unique work of art, created by foremost Swedish and Norwegian artists and calligraphers.

The Nobel Prize Amount

Alfred Nobel left most of his estate, more than SEK 31 million (today approximately SEK 1,702 million) to be converted into a fund and invested in "safe securities." The income from the investments was to be "distributed annually in the form of prizes to those who during the preceding year have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind."

The Nobel Prize amount for 2015 is set at Swedish kronor (SEK) 8.0 million per full Nobel Prize.


* Why are the individuals and organisations awarded a Nobel Prize called Nobel Laureates?

The word "Laureate" refers to being signified by the laurel wreath. In Greek mythology, the god Apollo is represented wearing a laurel wreath on his head. A laurel wreath is a circular crown made of branches and leaves of the bay laurel (in Latin: Laurus nobilis). In Ancient Greece, laurel wreaths were awarded to victors as a sign of honour - both in athletic competitions and in poetic meets.