Listening Topic: History – Student presentation on the Nobel Prizes

A. Listen to the student presentation. Then choose the correct answer for each question.

 Why did Alfred Nobel establish the Nobel Prizes?

      a   To recognize people who work to improve the world

      b   To celebrate his invention of dynamite

      c   To end controversy in the field of physics

 Which of the statements is not true?

      a   Many winners don’t keep the prize money.

      b   Candidates usually know they’ve been nominated.

      c   The prize given in the field of economics is not really a Nobel Prize.

 Why do some people believe that Rosalind Franklin’s name should have been added to those of Watson, Crick, and Wilkins for the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine?

      a   She cannot receive the award posthumously.

      b   Without looking at her work, Watson, Crick, and Wilkins would not have discovered the structure of the DNA double helix.

      c   She alone was responsible for identifying the DNA double helix.



1 2 3 b


A = Robbie, B = Alice, C = Walter

A:   Hi Everyone. Our group decided to give our presentation on the history of the Nobel Prize and its founder, Alfred Nobel. First I’ll tell you a little about Alfred Nobel, Alice will explain the procedure for Nobel Prize nominations, and Walter will talk a little about a controversy surrounding the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. Okay.

Alfred Nobel was born in Sweden in 1833, and was himself an inventor, scientist and international businessman. He is probably most well known for the award that carries his name, but he also was the inventor of dynamite. Although he had intended dynamite to be used in the building of huge engineering projects, he was shocked by the destructive purposes it was being used for.

For this reason, in his last will, he left more than 90% of his estate-that is, almost his entire fortune-to establish the Nobel Prizes for “those who, during the preceding year shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” In other words, he wanted to give awards each year to people who had done something important and good for the world. The awards are given in the following disciplines: medicine, chemistry, literature, peace and physics. There’s also a prize for economics that carries Nobel’s name, but it was established much later and is not truly a Nobel Prize. What I mean is, it was not one of the prizes that Alfred Nobel himself founded.

Now Alice is going to tell you a little about how the nominations are done.

B:   Thank you, Robbie. The process for determining the recipients begins more than one year before the awards are actually handed out. What I’m trying to say is, a committee begins to think about possible candidates each fall, and then the prizes are finally handed out to the winners in the winter of the following year. There are sometimes as many as 250 candidates for a particular award; however, the nominees have no idea that they have been nominated; and they are often surprised to find out that they’ve won. Every winner receives a certificate and a medal. Each winner is also awarded a little over I million dollars, as well.

Winners often donate the money to projects or causes that are important to them, but this isn’t required. That is, they can keep the money if they want to. Another interesting fact is that it’s not customary to make awards posthumously. In other words, Nobel Prize winners must still be alive at the time the awards are announced. The presentation of the Nobel Prizes takes place every December 10th in Stockholm, although the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in Norway.

The first Nobel Prizes were presented in 1901, five years after Alfred Nobel’s death. That year, Wilhelm Rontgen received the prize in physics for his work with X-rays. Henry Duant, who established the Red Cross, shared the Peace Prize that year with another nominee.

Past winners of the Nobel Peace Prize include former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, Kim Dae Jung of South Korea, former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, Nelson Mandela and Fredrik DeKlerk of South Africa, and Mother Teresa for her work with the poor. Organizations are also eligible to win. Past organizations with this honor include Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International.

Now, Walter is going to talk about a controversy over a past prize awarded in 1962 and present our conclusion.

C:   Yes, thanks, Alice. In 1962, the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine was awarded to Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins for their discovery of the structure of DNA. Rosalind Franklin, a woman, was a chemist who worked with prize winner Maurice Wilkins. One day, Wilkins showed James Watson some X-rays that Franklin had taken of DNA, and it was these X rays that enabled Crick and Watson to see and understand the double helix DNA structure, something Franklin herself had been working towards.

Unfortunately, Franklin had died of cancer four years before the award was given, but many of her admirers feel her contributions towards the discovery of DNA have been neglected and since, as Alice has mentioned, prizes are not awarded posthumously, her name will not be added to those of Crick, Watson and Wilkins.

To finish up, are we any closer to achieving the goals of Alfred Nobel’s humanitarian dream today than we were back when the first awards were presented? That’s hard to say. However, receiving the award is still an honor recognized the world over and serves as a reminder that individuals can and do make a difference.

That’s all. Thank you and we’ll be happy to answer any questions now.

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