Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Nobel cause…


I met a man today…an intelligent man…and we had a discussion about education and it surprised me when he mentioned that he had been taught nothing and told nothing about Alfred…how could that be possible? This worried me for about 15 seconds. I explained that I had been taught nothing or very little about Henry…so Paul, who is English and in finance, was perplexed when I mentioned both Alfred, and since his son is learning Latin, Carl von Linné…

You see it isn’t just ABBA, Volvo, Ikea, SAAB and Ericsson mobile phones which Sweden is famous for. There is a more sinister, but with a good outcome…I think…past in Sweden’s history… they are behind the invention of the Dynamite…Yes, the Dynamite and Mr. Alfred Nobel could have gone down in history, if it wasn’t for a printing error, as the Merchant of death, forgotten and despised with no legacy to show for it. It is often forgotten that behind the Nobel Prize stands a man who invented powerful ways of blowing things up. So in one way we have the French to thank for the invention of the Nobel Prize.

Alfred Nobel’s father was also an inventor he is credited to have invented the modern plywood, not that explosive news I agree but stick with me for a second…He upped sticks from Sweden and took his family including young Alfred, to St. Petersburg in Russia. Unfortunately the business did not do too well so they all headed back to Sweden after a bankruptcy.

Alfred started to study explosives…now there is course which we do not see at University today…wonder why?

So after a couple of years experimenting with nitro-glycerine he invented the dynamite and during a couple of test in Sweden at their research centre he managed to blow up his own brother Emil and a couple of co workers…not deterred by these minor setbacks, he demonstrated his newfound product at Redhill Quarry in England in 1867. Whilst it could be argued that Alfred had industrial use in mind for his invention it became a tremendous product which you could use with great effect in war…remember Alfred had personal knowledge of its capability just ask or spare a thought of his brother Emil…

So Nobel Industries flourished and Alfred did become extremely rich, he owned Bofors the Swedish arms manufacturer among other things. So then one evening in Paris, where our Mr. Nobel had settled in 1988 after patenting Dynamite around the world, a French newspaper printed, by mistake, that Mr. Nobel had in fact died. The obituary, not very flattering to Mr Nobel read…Le marchand de la mort est mort ("The merchant of death is dead"), it said, "Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday."
Alfred Nobel appears to have been a bit disturbed by what he read so a couple of years later, on the 27th of November 1895, some two weeks before he died from a stroke, he changed his Last Will and Testament. The will stated that his estate worth US$4 million, a huge amount in those days, should be the foundation of a prize given out in five categories. Physical Science, Chemistry, Medical Science, Literature and then a special prize Peace awarded to the person or society that renders the greatest service to the cause of international brother/sisterhood, in the suppression or reduction of standing armies, or in the establishment or furtherance of peace congresses.
Now you might ask yourself, why literature? The other prizes make sense…Literature is sort of the odd one out in the group. Well you see Mr Nobel was a writer as well as an inventor and he wrote a play, Nemesis, this is probably the reason for the Literature price being there.
All prizes apart from the Peace Prize are handed out in Sweden. When Nobel wrote his Will, Sweden and Norway was one country so it is believed that Mr Nobel asked for the Peace Prize to be handed out in Oslo as a gesture to peace and the union between Sweden and Norway…
The Nobel committee has announced over the last coupe of days the recipients for the various awards for 2006 and I feel it is just right we mention them here; and a note that they are all from the US, so perhaps we need to ensure that brain drain does not occur and spur on Oxford, Cambridge and all other Universities to get their act together, could be nice to see that Europe can match the US…anyway without further ado they are;

Roger D. Kornberg, Chemistry
Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello, Medicine
John C. Mather and George F. Smoot, Physics

Congratulations to all of you.

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