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The Uncertain Role of Nominations for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry†

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The Nobel Prize Nomination Archives provides the names of the nominators and their nominees for the chemistry prize from 1901 to 1970. This data gives insights into the selection of the Nobel Laureates. One of the more unusual observations is an up-down-up nomination trend for many of the chemistry laureates at the very end of their nomination profiles. Some chemistry laureates received very few nominations; and some non-laureates received many nominations. The nomination patterns are often curious and always informative.


The solicitation of nominations for the Nobel Prizes in Chemistry (NPch) is and has been the first step in the selection process since the very first awards were made in 1901. The number of nominations solicited by and provided to the Nobel Committee for Chemistry supports the belief by the nominators that their nominations are meaningful. In this publication, we examine data culled from the Nobel Prize Nomination Archives for the period 1901–1970 of the variable role of nominations in the selection process for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The evidence is overwhelming that nominations, in general, during the 1901–1970 period have not been the deciding, overriding factor in the selection of the recipients of the NPch. Rather, we posit that nominations from the preselected nominator-pool have been a source of information for the Committee, used to suggest future years’ contenders and possibly served as motivation for the Committee to seek nominations for specific nominees for future years. It is also clear that selections are often influenced by personal prejudices, for example, friendships, rivalries, and nationality.

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