100 years anniversary of Albert Einstein’s Nobel Prize

01 Oct 2021, 2.00 PM

Together, the Einstein Society Bern and the Swedish Embassy in Bern, give attention the 100 anniversary of the award of the Nobel Prize to Albert Einstein. Each in his own way, Albert Einstein and Alfred Nobel were two great minds whose legacies are as important today as ever.

The Swedish inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel stated in his will that the Nobel Prize should be awarded to “those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind during the last year”, something that proved difficult to evaluate in the area of physics in the first decades of the 20th century, as Einstein was way ahead of his time. In contrary to many people’s belief, the prize was not awarded to Albert Einstein for the relativity theory, but to honour his contributions to theoretical physics in general and, in particular, his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect. The Nobel Prize in Physics was, during this period, postponed or even skipped several years between 1915 and 1920 because of the difficulty to judge the “greatest benefit for human kind.” Nobody could at the time imagine the importance of Einstein’s relativity theory and the significance it has for research still today.

Albert Einstein in Switzerland

Albert Einstein was born in Germany but his family left the country when Einstein was a teenager. He completed his high school education in the Swiss town Aarau and then studied at the Federal Polytechnic School in Zürich. In 1901 Einstein gained Swiss citizenship and later was employed as a technical expert at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern. Between 1903 and 1905 Einstein lived in an apartment at Kramgasse 49 in Bern which today is the Einstein Haus museum. It was during Albert Einstein’s time in Bern that he produced much of his remarkable work. It is said that the medieval clock tower in Bern, the Zytglogge, which Einstein could see from his apartment, made him think of the particular role of time in the understanding of nature.

Alfred Nobel’s will

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish businessman, inventor and entrepreneur who also wrote poetry and plays. He spoke several languages and had an interest for social and peace issues. Alfred Nobel invented, among other things, the dynamite, which he patented in 1867. When he died almost twenty years later he had 355 patents. He left a will that in one single page created a document that would link his name to the world’s greatest achievements in various fields. The will stated that the interest of his fortune should be divided in five equal parts and be awarded in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace.

Alfred Nobel’s family opposed to his fortune being converted into a prize. Even the Swedish King Oscar II opposed to it as he considered the fact that non-Scandinavian citizens could be awarded the prize unpatriotic. It was not until five years after Nobel’s death that all practical issues were solved and the first Nobel Prizes could be awarded. The first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901 was awarded to a Swiss, the founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross Jean Henry Dunant from Geneva, together with the French scientist, politician and peace activist Frédéric Passy.

The Nobel Prize in Physics

In 1922 Albert Einstein was awarded with the Nobel Prize in Physics for the year 1921. He had by then been nominated on 62 occasions for the prize. Einstein was invited to take part in the yearly festivities in Stockholm in December of 1922, but was travelling to Japan at the time.  It was arranged that he instead would deliver his Nobel lecture during the celebrations of the 300 anniversary of the city of Göteborg in July 1923. The city’s anniversary was extensively celebrated and some of Göteborg’s most important landmarks such as the art museum, the museum of natural history and the amusement park Liseberg were inaugurated for this anniversary. 

Albert Einsten’s visit was the cherry on top of the 300 anniversary celebration. Einstein held his speech on 11 July on the occasion of the Scandinavian Nature Researchers’ meeting, in a packed congress hall with king Gustav V in the front row.  The speech had the title “Grundlagen und Probleme der Relativitätstheorie” and was a one hour overview of the relativity theory and in the laws of physics and our perception of time.

The Nobel Prize awarded 603 times

Between 1901 and 2020 the Nobel Prizes, and the Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel which was added in 1968, have been awarded 603 times to 962 people and organizations. With some receiving the Nobel Prize more than once, this makes a total of 930 individuals and 25 organizations. In 2020 the prize amounted to 10 million Swedish kronor, approximately 1 million CHF.

Visit the Einstein House in Bern to learn more about Albert Einstein. Read more about the Nobel Prize here: www.nobelprize.com

Albert Einstein´s speech in Göteborg. Sweden’s King Gustav V in the front row.

Albert Einstein´s speech in Göteborg. Sweden’s King Gustav V in the front row.

Last updated 01 Oct 2021, 2.14 PM