Nobel Prize Award for Chemistry 1901 - 1905

About the winners of the Nobel Prize for chemistry from 1901 to 1905 including Van't Hoff, Arrhenius, and Ramsay, what they won for, as well as behind the scenes information on the decision.


1901 Jacobus H. van't Hoff (1852-1911), Dutch. Work: Discovered laws of chemical dynamics and osmotic pressure.

Behind the Award--For the 1st few years, the Academy's problem was not to whom to give the prize, but in what order. Clearly, there were many who were deserving. Van't Hoff, in 1874, had founded the new branch of stereochemistry and, if the prize had then existed, would have won it easily. But his 1874 achievements were, by 1901, ineligible under Alfred Nobel's standards for the award. Van't Hoff had, however, continued his brilliant work in the fields of chemical reaction and osmosis. Of 20 proposals submitted by nominators for the 1901 consideration, Van't Hoff's name was the choice on 11, an obvious mandate for the Academy to follow.

1902 Emil H. Fischer (1852-1919), German. Work: Synthesized sugars and purines.

1903 Svante A. Arrhenius (1859-1927), Swedish. Work: Developed theory of electrolytic dissociation.

Behind the Award--Arrhenius received nominations for both the chemistry and the physics prizes. In each category, he was obviously the 1st choice by the majority of the proposers, raising the unique question of which prize to give him. The Committee for Chemistry offered a compromise: award Arrhenius half of each prize. The Academy debated the issue long and hard. Unlike King Solomon, it could find no way to split the Swede's theory into 2 equal halves that would please both physicists and chemists. Tempers rose on the Committee for Physics, which had no intention of allowing its sister committee to award half of its own prize. Rebuffed, the Chemistry Committee, by a 3-2 vote, elected to set back the decision on Arrhenius for a year. In the end, after a chemist quietly mentioned that the procrastination might damage Arrhenius' standing among world scientists, the Academy voided the year's delay and selected him for the current prize.

1904 William Ramsay (1852-1916), British. Work: Discovered the gaseous, indifferent elements of helium, argon, neon, krypton, and xenon.

1905 Adolf von Baeyer (1835-1917), German. Work: Researches on organic dyestuffs and hydroaromatic compounds.

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