The Nobel Prize is an international award for exceptional accomplishments in of six categories — physics, chemistry, medicine, economics, literature, and peace.
It began in 1895 when a Swedish chemist and inventor, Alfred Nobel, established it as a part of his estate.
Click through to the gallery to learn more about the prize and it’s previous winners in each category.
We owe our pagers, radios, TVs and cell phones to the work of Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian physicist who developed radio telegraphy and shortwave wireless communication, the forerunners to modern long-distance radio. Marconi was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909, which he shared with German physicist Ferdinand Braun.
The very first Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to German scientist Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen, who discovered X-rays. His discovery revolutionized diagnostic medicine and opened the door to modern physics.
In 1954, American surgeon Joseph E. Murray performed groundbreaking surgery-- the very first successful kidney transplant, between identical twins. Today, organ transplants between donors and recipients have become routine. His work in life-saving organ and tissue transplants led to the awarding of the 1990 Nobel Prize in Medicine.
One of the great scientific achievements honored with a Nobel Prize was the discovery of DNA's structure, as determined by James Watson and Francis Crick. They, along with fellow researcher Maurice Wilkins, were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962 for determining the molecular structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the chemical substance that serves as the genetic blueprint for all living organisms. Their work became a cornerstone of genetics and is widely regarded as one of the most important discoveries of 20th-century biology.
French physicist Gabriel Lippmann, who received the 1908 Nobel Prize in Physics, produced the first color photographic plate. Prior to his development of a color photography process, photographic images were monochromatic-- black and white-- and any color was usually added by hand painting. Lippmann's work opened the door to a world of color photos.
In 1928, Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, a substance that kills most types of common bacteria. Fleming was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1945. His work transformed medical treatment and paved the way for antibiotic therapy for infectious diseases. Prior to the discovery and development of penicillin, a simple bacterial infection could be very deadly. Penicillin is still one of the most widely used antibacterial agents today.
Nowadays you can find vitamin additives in everything from cereal to gum, thanks to the work of several Nobel Prize winners. Prior to British scientist F.G. Hopkins' discovery of vitamins and Sir Norman Haworth's work in synthesizing vitamins, people didn't even know that vitamins existed and that they were necessary for good health.
Alfred Nobel, a Swedish scientist who invented dynamite in the 19th century, started the Nobel Prize. In his will, he left the bulk of his fortune, made from explosives and ammunition manufacturing, to establish the awards. The awards were to be given out annually "to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind."
A committee-- one for each award category-- decides among hundreds of award nominees each year. The committees invite people around the world-- previous winners, scholars and officials-- to nominate candidates. The first Nobel Awards were presented on December 10, 1901, on the fifth anniversary of Nobel's death.
The Nobel Prizes are not just about science. The category of Literature has recognized playwrights, poets and authors for their intellectual contributions. Americans who have received the Nobel Prize for Literature include writers such as Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck, Pearl S. Buck and Ernest Hemingway.
What do the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Yassir Arafat, Theodore Roosevelt all have in common? They are all recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, which is given to the person who "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."
The Dalai Lama received the prize for his non-violent campaign to end Chinese occupation of Tibet. Mother Teresa was awarded the prize for her work with the poor in India. Yassir Arafat shared the prize with Israelis Shimon Peres and Yitzak Rabin for a joint peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Theodore Roosevelt received the prize for mediating the end of the Russo-Japanese War and promoting the construction of the Panama Canal.