Swedish inventor and philanthropist Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) signed his last will and testament, giving the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace — the Nobel Prizes. The Nobel Foundation was established, and starting in 1901, prizes have been awarded every year to those who "shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind" in the previous year. In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank (Sweden's central bank) established an additional prize, The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences, in memory of Alfred Nobel. The prize amount is now 8 million Swedish krona (about $900,000), to be shared equally between the laureates who win any given prize. The grand awards ceremony takes place every year on the anniversary of Nobel’s death, Dec. 10.

The 2016 Prize for Literature was awarded to Bob Dylan "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Dylan was born in 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota and has made music since he was a teenager; he had a particular passion for American folk music and blues. In addition to his well-known large production of albums, Dylan has published experimental work and has written an autobiography; since the late 1980s, he has toured regularly and has become an icon of American music. Novelist Toni Morrison was the last American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1993. Though his work does not fit into the literary canons of novels, poetry and short stories that are traditionally recognized, the Swedish Academy endorses his lifetime of writing, storytelling and great poetry in the English speaking tradition. He is the first songwriter to win the prestigious award.


The 2016 Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmström "for their contributions to contract theory." Hart, born 1948 in London and now professor of economics at Harvard University, and Holmström, born 1949 in Helsinki and now professor of economics and management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will share the prize for their contributions to the theory of contracts, used to describe and analyze economic activities and transactions. The new theoretical tools created by Hart and Holmström are valuable to the understanding of real-life contracts and institutions, as well as potential pitfalls in contract design. Their analysis of optimal contractual arrangements lays a foundation for designing policies and institutions in many areas, from bankruptcy legislation to political constitutions.

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2016 was divided among David J. Thouless, F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz "for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter." Thouless, born 1934 in Bearsden, UK and now professor at the University of Washington, Seattle, and Haldane, born 1951 in London and now professor of physics at Princeton University, as well as Kosterlitz, born 1942 in Aberdeen, UK and now professor of physics at Brown University in Providence, RI, have used advanced mathematical methods to study unusual phases or states of matter, such as superconductors, superfluids or thin magnetic films. Their work uses mathematical insights from the field of topology to describe and explain properties such as superfluidity and superconductivity in thin layers of fluid, and many people are hopeful of future applications in both materials science and electronics.

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to professors Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa for the design and synthesis of molecular machines. Sauvage, born 1944 in Paris and now at the National Center for Scientific Research University of Strasbourg, France, Stoddart, born 1942 in Edinburgh, UK and now professor of chemistry at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, and Feringa, born 1951 in the Netherlands and now professor in organic chemistry at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, together developed the world’s smallest machines. These tiny, artificial muscles and minuscule motors were made by taking molecular systems out of equilibrium's stalemate and into energy-filled states in which their movements can be controlled. Molecular machines will most likely be used in the development of things such as new materials, sensors and energy storage systems.

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi "for his discoveries of mechanisms for autophagy." Ohsumi, born 1945 in Fukuoka, Japan and now professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology, discovered and elucidated mechanisms underlying autophagy, a fundamental process for degrading and recycling cellular components. Autophagy has been known for over 50 years but its fundamental importance in physiology and medicine was only recognized after Ohsumi's paradigm-shifting research in the 1990s.

The 2106 Nobel Peace Prize went to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, for his efforts to bring to an end the country’s 50-year civil war. Santos, born 1951 in Bogotá, Colombia, won for his resolute efforts to bring peace in a war that has cost the lives of at least 220,000 Colombians and displaced close to six million people. The Nobel Committee believes President Santos has brought the conflict significantly closer to a peaceful solution and laid groundwork for the disarmament of the FARC guerrillas and a historic process of national fraternity and reconciliation.
After winning the award, Santos announced he will donate the Nobel Prize money to help the victims of the conflict.
Unlike the other Nobel Prizes, the Peace Prize is awarded by a Norwegian committee, though no one knows why Alfred Nobel wanted it that way. It could have to do with the fact that at the time Nobel wrote his will, Norway and Sweden were still in union, and with Sweden responsible for all foreign policy, Nobel may have felt the prize might be less subject to political corruption if awarded by Norway. It is also presented separately from the other Nobel prizes on Dec. 10 — in Oslo, in the presence of the Norwegian king.