Sunday, December 14, 2008

No Nobel Prize for Mathematics?

It may come as a shock to most of us but nobody knows for sure – even Alfred Nobel himself haven’t left any explanations on his will – on why there is no Nobel Prize for mathematics. Is it a mystery worthy of a Nobel Laureate?


By: Vanessa Uy


Sooner or later, anyone who finds out that there is no Nobel Prize for Mathematics will feel somewhat perplexed. But will later descend into astonishment when no satisfactory reasons exist. Even Alfred Nobel’s last will and testament didn’t provide any explanation on why he won’t grant any of his prestigious prizes to mathematicians. But before we proceed, here’s a review on what the Nobel Prize is all about.

When Alfred Nobel got rich after inventing a manufacturing process that made the powerful but hopelessly unstable nitroglycerin – previously discovered by Ascanio Sobrero back in 1846 – into a product stable enough for use in mining and civil engineering work. Even the military sector of every nation of the world back then became the major purchasers of Alfred Nobel’s dynamite. Shy and deeply engrossed in his work, Alfred Nobel never got married. And thus formulated his last will and testament to bequeath his vast mostly self-made fortune be invested to fund a foundation / committee – later to become the Nobel Committee. And the interest awarded annually as prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, peace, and economics. Which henceforth became known as the Nobel Prizes.

Even though Nobel Laureates of the Physics Prizes – especially quantum / theoretical physicists and Economics Prize Laureate economists can be thought of as de facto mathematicians, especially true these days. Alfred Nobel had not specifically stipulated a proviso on his will whether to explicitly award or shame mathematicians. Nobel neither put into writing nor publicly expressed his own personal sentiments about mathematicians during his lifetime. Which unfortunately started a rumor within the academic world that slowly trickled down into the general public on why Alfred Nobel has not set aside a Nobel Prize for mathematicians.

The rumor states that during one of the rare periods of his life when Alfred Nobel’s “workload” became low enough to allow him to search for a prospective bride, he lost a girl to a gifted yet obscure mathematician. Thus forever harboring resentment towards mathematicians. Even though this “apocryphal” story is about as factual as the young George Washington chopping down a cherry tree, or the apple hitting Isaac Newton on the head inspiring his eureka moment on his insight on gravity.

Given that the truth behind the story of Alfred Nobel losing his girlfriend to a mathematician will probably never gonna be substantiated in the foreseeable future. Other foundations structured similarly to the Nobel Committee were established throughout the years to recognize the achievements of our tireless mathematicians. Which is very important in today’s information-based society under the hegemony of Web 2.0 and round-the-clock global stock market trading.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Isn't the Alfred Nobel "jilted lover theory" a bit hackneyed? Anyway, I first heard of it in an episode of NUMB3RS / Numbers. Given in our "Post Nine-Eleven World" we cannot academically discuss freely how Alfred Nobel - a working chemist - figured out how to stabilize nitroglycerin without the aid of "basic" engineering-level mathematics, the "Jilted Lover Theory" on why Alfred Nobel didn't include mathematics as Nobel Prize worthy is extremely valid.
P.S. Is this might also be the reason why there is no Nobel for Psychiatry? Did he find the works of Sigmund Freud " too Freudian".