On 27 November 1895, Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament, giving the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes, the Nobel Prizes. As described in Nobel’s will, one part was dedicated to “the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine”. Learn more about the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine from 1901 to 2020.
Number of Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine
111 Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine have been awarded since 1901. It was not awarded on nine occasions: in 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1921, 1925, 1940, 1941 and 1942.
Why were the Medicine Prizes not awarded in those years? In the statutes of the Nobel Foundation it says: “If none of the works under consideration is found to be of the importance indicated in the first paragraph, the prize money shall be reserved until the following year. If, even then, the prize cannot be awarded, the amount shall be added to the Foundation’s restricted funds.” During World War I and II, fewer Nobel Prizes were awarded.
Shared and unshared Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine
39 Medicine Prizes have been given to one Laureate only.
33 Medicine Prizes have been shared by two Laureates.
39 Medicine Prizes have been shared between three Laureates.
Why is that? In the statutes of the Nobel Foundation it says: A prize amount may be equally divided between two works, each of which is considered to merit a prize. If a work that is being rewarded has been produced by two or three persons, the prize shall be awarded to them jointly. In no case may a prize amount be divided between more than three persons.
Number of Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine
222 individuals have been awarded 1901-2020.
Youngest Medicine Laureate
To date, the youngest Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine is Frederick G. Banting, who was 32 years old when he was awarded the Medicine Prize in 1923.
Oldest Medicine Laureate
The oldest Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine to date is Peyton Rous, who was 87 years old when he was awarded the Medicine Prize in 1966.
Female Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine
Of the 222 individuals awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 12 are women. Of these 12, Barabara McClintock is the only one who has received an unshared Nobel Prize.
1947 – Gerty Cori
1977 – Rosalyn Yalow
1983 – Barbara McClintock
1986 – Rita Levi-Montalcini
1988 – Gertrude B. Elion
1995 – Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard
2004 – Linda B. Buck
2008 – Françoise Barré-Sinoussi
2009 – Elizabeth H. Blackburn and Carol W. Greider
2014 – May-Britt Moser
2015 – Tu Youyou
List of all female Nobel Laureates
Multiple Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine
No one has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine more than once. Yet …
Posthumous Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine
There have been no posthumous Nobel Prizes in Chemistry. From 1974, the Statutes of the Nobel Foundation stipulate that a Nobel Prize cannot be awarded posthumously, unless death has occurred after the announcement of the Nobel Prize. Before 1974, the Nobel Prize has only been awarded posthumously twice: to Dag Hammarskjöld (Nobel Peace Prize 1961) and Erik Axel Karlfeldt (Nobel Prize in Literature 1931).
Following the 2011 announcement of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, it was discovered that one of the Medicine Laureates, Ralph Steinman, had passed away three days earlier. The Board of the Nobel Foundation examined the statutes, and an interpretation of the purpose of the rule above lead to the conclusion that Ralph Steinman should to remain a Nobel Laureate, as the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet had announced the 2011 Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine without knowing of his death.
Family Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine
Forced to decline the Nobel Prize
Two Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have been forced by authorities to decline the Nobel Prize. Adolf Hitler forbade three German Nobel Laureates from receiving the Nobel Prize – two of whom were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Richard Kuhn in 1938 and Adolf Butenandt in 1939. The third person, Gerhard Domagk was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1939. All of them could receive the Nobel Prize Diploma and Medal later, but not the prize amount.
Nobel Laureate partnerships in biomedical science
Many long scientific partnerships have resulted in Nobel Prizes:
|Michael S. Brown & Joseph L. Goldstein||40||1972-present|
|Carl Cori & Gerty Cori||34||1922-56|
|William H. Stein & Stanford Moore||33||1939-72|
|André F. Cournand & Dickinson W. Richards||30||1932-62|
|George H. Hitchings & Gertrude B. Elion||23||1944-67|
|David H. Hubel & Torsten N. Wiesel||20||1958-78|
|J. Michael Bishop & Harold E. Varmus||19||1971-90|
|Philip S. Hench & Edward C. Kendall||16||1934-50|
|Edmond H. Fischer & Edwin G. Krebs||11||1953-64|
|François Jacob & Jacques Monod||9||1957-66|
|James Watson & Francis Crick||2||1951-53|
List compiled in 2012, courtesy of Joseph L. Goldstein.
Nominations for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
In the nomination database, you can find interesting nomination trivia, for example, that the Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was nominated 32 times for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, but never awarded. In 1929, the Nobel Committee for Medicine engaged an expert who concluded that a further investigation in Freud was not necessary, since Freud’s work was of no proven scientific value. Freud was also nominated once for the 1936 Nobel Prize in Literature by Nobel Laureate Romain Rolland, an acquaintance of Freud.
The nominations for the Nobel Prizes are kept secret for 50 years.
The Nobel medal for Physiology and Medicine
The Nobel medal for Physiology and Medicine was designed by Swedish sculptor and engraver Erik Lindberg and represents the Genius of Medicine holding an open book in her lap, collecting the water pouring out from a rock in order to quench a sick girl’s thirst.
The Nobel diplomas
Each Nobel diploma is a unique work of art, created by foremost Swedish and Norwegian artists and calligraphers.
The Nobel Prize amount
Alfred Nobel left most of his estate, more than SEK 31 million (today approximately SEK 1,702 million) to be converted into a fund and invested in “safe securities.” The income from the investments was to be “distributed annually in the form of prizes to those who during the preceding year have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.”
The Nobel Prize amount for 2021 is set at Swedish kronor (SEK) 10 million per full Nobel Prize.
* Why are the individuals and organisations awarded a Nobel Prize called Nobel Laureates?
The word “Laureate” refers to being signified by the laurel wreath. In Greek mythology, the god Apollo is represented wearing a laurel wreath on his head. A laurel wreath is a circular crown made of branches and leaves of the bay laurel (in Latin: Laurus nobilis). In Ancient Greece, laurel wreaths were awarded to victors as a sign of honour – both in athletic competitions and in poetic meets.
Links to more facts on the Nobel Prizes:
Facts on the Nobel Prize in Physics
Facts on the Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Facts on the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Facts on the Nobel Prize in Literature
Facts on the Nobel Peace Prize
Facts on the Prize in Economic Sciences
Facts on all Nobel Prizes
First published 5 October 2009.