The Nobel Prize is one of the most prestigious international awards in academia, and can be earned across five different fields of study, which are as follows:

  •  Physiology or medicine
  •  Chemistry
  •  Literature
  •  Peace
  •  Physics

In this guide, we’re going to focus on the Nobel prize for chemistry, as you might have guessed already.

What is the Nobel Prize?

Well, if we use the official definition, it’s a prize that is bestowed upon "those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind."

As you can imagine, this is what makes the Nobel Prize such a big deal in academia and beyond. It’s not only a recognition of talent or a breakthrough but an acknowledgement of progress in a particular field that is of benefit to humankind as a whole.

We’re not just talking about a well-written essay or a science experiment that may prove a theory to be true, the Nobel Prize is awarded to the Albert Einstein’s and Marie Curies of this world. Those extraordinary individuals who in most cases have committed their lives to the pursuit of a worthwhile cause.

To illustrate just what that might mean in concrete terms, the Nobel Prize in chemistry has been awarded to the creators of the lithium-ion battery, the scientists behind the discovery of quasicrystals, and the inventor of the micro-analysis of organic substances.

As such, chemistry Nobel Prize candidates are the very best in their field of study. All Nobel prize winners in chemistry are worthy of all the plaudits and praise we can muster, as they will have accomplished something truly groundbreaking.

Curious to learn more about this fascinating science?

If so, read on and discover just about everything there is to know about the Nobel Prize in the sciences. We’ll cover everything from the very first recipients to the most famous British chemistry Nobel Prize winners and even scratch the surface of physics Nobel Prize winners too.

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First Nobel Prizes in Chemistry

The Nobel Prize in chemistry was first established by Alfred Nobel in 1895, and you don’t need us to tell you where it got its name!

The organisation that awards the prize, though, is the Nobel Foundation and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences that delivers it. There’s a committee of five members that are elected by the Academy and comprise the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

Each year it’s presented in Stockholm during a yearly ceremony which marks the anniversary of Alred Nobel’s death on the 10th December. As far as legacies go, Alred Nobel’s is one that still causes ripples throughout society today.

What did Nobel do that was so… noble?

Well, he was a Swedish chemist primarily, but he also dabbled in engineering, invention, entrepreneurship and more, such as the breadth of his talent.

His crowning accomplishment in the sciences was the invention of dynamite, and before he passed away in 1896 he decided to pour his vast fortune into the Nobel Prize institution which is why it's still around today.

Starting from the beginning, the first chemistry Nobel Prize winner was Dutch native Jacobus Henricus Van’t Hoff.

The Prize was awarded in 1901, just five years after Nobel’s death.

It was given ‘in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by the discovery of the laws of chemical dynamics and osmotic pressure in solutions’.

Sounds simple, right?

Let’s go ahead and simplify this for those of us who were never great at science in school.

Van’t Hoff as a theoretical chemist laid the groundwork for the modern theory of chemical equilibrium, chemical kinetics, chemical thermodynamics, and chemical affinity.

In short, he paved the way for future chemists to make further breakthroughs in science. He pushed the field of chemistry forward significantly, which means the Nobel Prize award was well-deserved.

A tough act to follow, we’re sure you’ll agree.

So, who’s next?

The next winner of the Nobel Prize came a year later in 1902 and was called Hermann Emil Fischer.

Known for more than his exceptionally well-kept beard, the German chemist received the award for his work relating to sugar and purine synthesis.

Emil Fischer discovered, alongside colleague Fourneau, the synthesis of dipeptide which allowed us to better understand proteins.

Most famous British Nobel prize winners

street in London
The UK has produced some fine talent in the field of chemistry over the years. Unsplash.

In the Nobel Prize by country stakes, Britain fares well against other nations.

The UK is second only to the USA when it comes to the number of Nobel Prizes received. There are 133 UK Nobel Prize winners as of the time of writing, whereas the US has a staggering 388.

An impressive figure for a small island, the UK has produced some of the best minds over the past hundred years whose contributions to humankind have been worthy of recognition at the highest level.

But who are the most distinguished British chemists to have claimed a Nobel Prize?

Well, the first scientist hailing from Britain to claim the prize was one William Ramsay in 1904, just a few years after the Prize’s creation.

The Scot is attributed with the discovery of the noble gases, along with fellow collaborator John William Strutt. The pair were such a dynamic duo that they went on to win a physics Nobel Prize, later on, that year with their discovery of argon!

As you can imagine, Ramsay’s contribution to chemistry opened up further possibilities for the periodic table, which led to the creation of a whole new section.

Ernest Rutherford is another British Nobel Prize winner worthy of mention, as he is considered to be the ‘father of nuclear physics’.

What did he do to earn this title?

Well, the 1908 Nobel Prize winner, is recognised as one of the best experimentalists we’ve known in the sciences. He discovered the concept of radioactive half-life, along with the radioactive element radon.

Specifically, he won the award for his investigations into the ‘disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances.’

The 2020 Nobel Prize Winner

scientist looking in microscope
The 2020 Nobel Prize was awarded for innovation in the fascinating field of genome editing. Unsplash.

The chemistry nobel prize in 2020 was given to both Jennifer A. Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier for the ‘development of a method for genome editing’.

The two chemists discovered the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors which researchers can now use to alter the DNA of plants, animals, and microorganisms with precision. As a result, the field of life sciences has been blown open and now there are all sorts of possibilities that were previously closed off such as the development of new cancer therapies.

The whole purpose of gene modification is to give us key insights into how life forms really function. It’s a very tough field to make progress in, but with the discovery made by the two scientists, it will now be much less time-consuming which could bring about rapid discoveries.

However, there was a chemistry Nobel prize 2020 controversy which threatened to overshadow the discovery. Although they were credited with the creation of Crispr, the genetic information was already available, what they did is turn it into a tool other scientists could use in gene modification.

As you can tell, even if you aren’t from a scientific background or have never quite taken to the sciences, this genetic tool discovery could have huge implications on scientific research going forward which makes it all the more impressive.

If you’re inspired by this astounding accomplishment and progression in chemistry, why not hire a private chemistry tutor and see how far you can go?

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Nobel Prizes in Physics

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Chemistry isn't the only science in which you can win a Nobel Prize. Unsplash.

The chemistry Nobel Prize is a highly prestigious award, but so is the physics Nobel Prize.

This is the award that once went to Albert Einstein back in 1921 for ‘his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect’.

Just like chemistry, physics is a subject that can have profound implications on the way we live and provide insights into the world around us and the materials that inhabit it.

The very first physics Nobel Prize was awarded to Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen of Germany in 1901, the same year that Jacobus Henricus Van’t Hoff won the chemistry Nobel Prize.

Röntgen picked up the prestigious award ‘in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by the discovery of the remarkable rays subsequently named after him’.

John Bardeen has the most physics Nobel Prizes to his name with two, achieving the same feat that only Frederick Sanger managed with chemistry Nobel Prizes. Bardeen picked up his first Nobel Prize in 1956 along with two others ‘for their researches on semiconductors and their discovery of the transistor effect’. He then went on to win the award again 16 years later in 1972 when he and two others jointly developed the theory of superconductivity which came to be known as the BCS theory.

The 2021 Nobel Prize in physics is due to be announced on Tuesday 5th October at around 11:45 CEST, so stay tuned to find out what exciting new discovery has pushed the science of physics forward the most.

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Samuel

Sam is an English teaching assistant and freelance writer based in southern Spain. He enjoys exploring new places and cultures, and picking up languages along the way.