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Alfred Nobel 1833 -1896

Alfred Nobel

This week I have chosen a scientist whose name remains famous because of prizes that he set up in his will. I am sure you have heard the term Nobel Prize winners including one of our other Scientists of the Week: Marie Curie. 


However, it was our keen Year 2 scientist Shea who wanted to find out more about explosions that made me think of Alfred Nobel as our Scientist of the Week.


Alfred Berhard Nobel was born in Stockholm, the capital city of Sweden, in 1833. He was the fourth  of eight children and his father, Immanuel was an inventor and engineer. Alfred was often sick as a child so spent a lot of time with his mother caring for him. Although his father had created successful businesses in Sweden, by the time Alfred was four, his father had to leave to earn money for the family. His mother opened a grocery store. Immanuel moved to Finland then St Petersburg in Russia where he was able to send for his family to join him when Albert was nine. His factory making equipment for the Russian army had become a success. His equipment was used in the Crimean War (where Florence Nightingale treated British soldiers who had been injured by the equipment).


His father's success in Russia meant that he was able to hire the best tutors for Albert who was extremely inquisitive and loved Chemistry. He was also able to speak and write Swedish, Russian, English, French and German fluently. Immanuel taught his children that they could shape their own futures through hard work and dedication. They worked long hours every day but Alfred loved learning.


By the age of 16 Alfred had become a big fan of Shakespeare's plays and the poetry of Percy Shelley. He started to write his own poetry and wanted to be a writer. His father did not want him to be a writer so he offered him the opportunity to travel across Europe and the USA to study how to be a chemical engineer if he then worked for his father. 


It was when he was working in Paris that he became interested in nitroglycerine. This was a highly explosive liquid which had been invented by Ascanio Sobrero but due to its explosive nature it was considered too dangerous to work with.


Alfred moved back to Sweden in 1863 and with his father tried to develop large scale production and use of nitroglycerine as an explosive. However, it was still a very dangerous liquid and caused accidents including one explosion in a factory that killed his own brother.


He was then banned from doing his experiments in Stockholm city so he moved his work on to a barge on Lake Malaren. He tried adding compounds to nitroglycerine and found that when he added a fine sand called kieselguhr it turned the liquid into a paste. This paste could then be shaped into rods and he called this dynamite. His invention and that of detonating caps had a great impact on the many construction projects of the era including building tunnels, bridges, blasting rocks. 


In his will Albert Nobel wanted his fortune to be used to give prizes for key contributions in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace. These international prizes are still being awarded and are considered a great achievement. At the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge there were two Nobel Prize Winners when I worked there: Cesar Milstein and Max Perutz.



Aspiration, Inspiration, Motivation, Aim High