Alfred Nobel

Swedish chemist,engineer, innovator, and armaments manufacturer Alfred Nobel was born 21st October 1833, in Stockholm. As a boy he was interested in engineering, particularly explosives, learning the basic principles from his father at a young age.  Nobel had private tutors and excelled in his studies, particularly in chemistry and languages, achieving fluency in English, French, German, and Russian, Nobel also attended the Jacobs Apologistic School in Stockholm. As a young man, Nobel studied with chemist Nikolai Zinin; then, in 1850, went to Paris to further the work; and went to the United States for four years to study chemistry, collaborating for a short period under inventor John Ericsson, who designed the American Civil War ironclad USS Monitor. Nobel filed his first patent, for a gas meter, in 1857. The family factory produced armaments for the Crimean War (1853–1856); but, had difficulty switching back to regular domestic production when the fighting ended and they filed for bankruptcy.In 1859, Nobel’s father left his factory in the care of the second son, Ludvig Nobel (1831–1888), who greatly improved the business.

Nobel and his parents returned to Sweden from Russia and Nobel devoted himself to the study of explosives, and especially to the safe manufacture and use of nitroglycerine (discovered in 1847 by Ascanio Sobrero, one of his fellow students under Théophile-Jules Pelouze at the University of Turin). Nobel invented a detonator in 1863 and also designed the blasting cap. On 3 September 1864, Nobel’s younger brother Emila was killed in an explosion at the factory in  Stockholm. Dogged by more minor accidents but unfazed, Nobel went on to build further factories, focusing on improving the stability of the explosives he was developing, so he invented dynamite in 1867, a substance easier and safer to handle than the more unstable nitroglycerin. Nobel demonstrated his explosive for the first time that year, at a quarry in Redhill, Surrey, England. In order to help reestablish his name and improve the image of his business from the earlier controversies associated with the dangerous explosives, Nobel had also considered naming the highly powerful substance “Nobel’s Safety Powder”, but settled with Dynamite instead, referring to the Greek word for ‘power’. which is used extensively in mining and the building of transport networks

In 1875 Nobel invented gelignite, a more stable and powerful than dynamite. He then combined nitroglycerin with various nitrocellulose compounds, similar to collodion, but settled on a more efficient recipe combining another nitrate explosive, and obtained a transparent, jelly-like substance, which produced a more powerful explosive than dynamite. ‘Gelignite’, or blasting gelatin, as it was named, was patented in 1876 and in 1887 he also patented ballistite, a forerunner of cordite, this was modified by the addition of potassium nitrate and various other substances. Gelignite was more stable, transportable and conveniently formed to fit into bored holes, like those used in drilling and mining, An off-shoot of this research resulted in Nobel’s invention of ballistite, the precursor of many modern smokeless powder explosives and still used as a rocket propellant.

Nobel was also elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1884, the same institution that would later select laureates for two of the Nobel prizes, and he received an honorary doctorate from Uppsala University in 1893.Concerned that his invention would be used for evil purposes, Nobel signed his last will and testament and set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Prizes, to be awarded annually without distinction of nationality. The first three of these prizes are awarded for eminence in physical science, in chemistry and in medical science or physiology; the fourth is for literary work “in an ideal direction” and the fifth prize is to be given to the person or society that renders the greatest service to the cause of international fraternity, in the suppression or reduction of standing armies, or in the establishment or furtherance of peace congresses. There is no prize awarded for mathematics. The formulation for the literary prize being given for a work “in an ideal direction”, is cryptic and has caused much confusion. For many years, the Swedish Academy interpreted “ideal” as “idealistic” (idealistisk) and used it as a reason not to give the prize to important but less Romantic authors, such as Henrik Ibsen and Leo Tolstoy.0

This interpretation has since been revised, and the prize has been awarded to, for example, Dario Fo and José Saramago, who do not belong to the camp of literary idealism. He stipulated that the money go to discoveries or inventions in the physical sciences and to discoveries or improvements in chemistry.In 1891, Nobel moved from Paris to San Remo, Italy, where he died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 10 December 1896. During his life Nobel issued 350 patents internationally and by his death had established 90 armaments factories, despite his belief in pacifism. Unbeknownst to his family, friends or colleagues, he had left most of his wealth in trust, in order to fund the awards that would become known as the Nobel Prizes. The synthetic element nobelium is also named after him and his name also survives in modern-day companies such as Dynamit Nobel and Akzo Nobel, which are descendants of the companies Nobel himself established. He is buried in Norra begravningsplatsen in Stockholm.

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