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Alfred Nobel - Chemist, Inventor, and Engineer
Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm in 1833. It was he who founded the Nobel Prizes – the most prestigious award attainable in human achievement. Nobel was born into a good family and had a good education. He studied literature with a passion, but his father wanted his son to do something more practical and sent him away to study chemical engineering abroad. In this area, Nobel soon became fascinated with nitro-glycerine, an extremely volatile and explosive liquid.
In the 1860s, after finishing his research in the area of explosives, Nobel returned to Sweden, and began to develop the use of nitro-glycerine1. This was extremely dangerous at the time, and in 1864 an explosion occurred at a factory he built, killing several people, including Nobel's own brother. The Swedish authorities then prohibited the production of nitro-glycerine within the Stockholm city limits, forcing Nobel to work elsewhere. He did so on a barge, undeterred by the awkwardness of the working space, and indeed, in 1867, he succeeded in producing dynamite in the form of a paste mixture of nitro-glycerine and silica. He also invented the blasting cap to aid detonation, and the smokeless gunpowder, ballistite. These inventions may have brought wealth and fortune to Nobel, but they were quickly used by countries around the world to kill people.
Towards the end of Nobel's life, he had amassed a huge amount of money. He also bitterly rued the fact that dynamite was being used in such a cruel way. In his will, he dedicated his entire wealth and fortune to those who had 'conferred the greatest benefit on mankind'. This was how the Nobel Prizes started. And in 1901, five years after Nobel's death, the first five prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology and medicine, peace, and literature were awarded. The sixth category, economics, was founded in 1969.
It seems paradoxical that someone who has given his name to the most honourable peace prize would be the one who had spent a significant part of his life studying explosives and had invented dynamite. But then again, if Nobel hadn't been involved in the evolution of such a weapon, the Nobel Peace Prize probably wouldn't exist...
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