No doubt you have heard of the Nobel Prize, but do you know anything about the man behind the prize? Alfred Bernhard Nobel was a Swedish chemist, engineer, innovator, and armaments manufacturer.
He was the inventor of dynamite. On the anniversary of Alfred
Nobel's death, which coincides with the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony,
here's a look at some surprising facts about Nobel's life and legacy.
know that after a lifetime of working with explosives, Alfred Nobel wanted the fortune he'd earned to be used to create
Nobel Prizes in the fields of chemistry, medicine, physics, literature and
peace. However, there's much more to this 19th century scientist's story. Here
are a few surprising facts about Nobel's life (and death):
A Benevolent Misanthrope
For a man
who would establish prizes that celebrate the best in human accomplishment, at
times Alfred Nobel had very little enthusiasm for people.
who suffered from chronic bad health, lived a lonely life; he preferred not to
entertain and once wrote that "numerous friends are to be found only among
dogs." In addition, the people he met in his career often frustrated him,
as competitors tried to appropriate his work on multiple occasions.
didn't completely give up on humanity, as his prizes indicate. He once wrote:
"I am a misanthrope, but exceedingly benevolent."
Nobel's reputation and
fortune were built on his work with nitroglycerin. He invented an igniter that
made it possible to control the unstable compound's explosions, then figured
out how to combine nitroglycerin with silicon-containing earth in order to
create the more stable dynamite. Later in his career, Nobel also used
nitroglycerin to make blasting gelatin and ballistite (smokeless powder).
Nobel's lifetime, nitroglycerin was also found to have medicinal uses. And when
Nobel experienced heart problems himself, doctors directed him to take the
compound. Nobel recognized the absurdity of the situation, noting, "[I]t
seems an irony of fate that they should be prescribing nitroglycerin internally
Nobel the Playwright
a lifelong appreciation for literature. He often wrote poetry, and also drafted
a few novels. And shortly before his death, he completed a play, Nemesis,
that was based on the story of a 16th century noblewoman who'd killed her abusive
father. Nobel wrote that he thought his work was "rather good," and
100 copies of the play were made for distribution.
After Nobel died in
1896, family members tried to destroy those copies because they felt the play
could undermine his reputation. Despite these efforts, three copies survived,
and in 2005 Nemesis premiered at a theater
though Nobel was a man of many talents, apparently his skills did not include
writing drama — so don't feel bad if you missed the show. A Guardian article about the
premiere stated: "According to the show's director, Rikard Turpin, Nemesis is a lurid parade of
torture, rape and incest that features a drug-induced vision of the Virgin
Mary, a conversation with Satan and ends in a 40-minute torture scene."
Nobel and Peace
his life, Nobel didn't see his work with explosives as something he had to
atone for. Most of his nitroglycerin products were put to use in fields like
mining and communications (though ballistite was used in firearms). Of course
there were military applications for all his explosives, but Nobel felt that
"there is nothing in our world that cannot be misused."
addition, Nobel believed that increases in destructive power might lead to
peace. In 1890, he wrote, "On the day when two armies will be able to
annihilate each other in one second, all civilized nations will recoil from war
in horror and disband their forces." And Nobel, who was friends with peace
activist Bertha von Suttner, told her, "Perhaps my factories will put an
end to war sooner than your [peace] congresses."
Nobel's views did evolve to the point that he chose to establish the Nobel
Peace Prize in order to honor those who "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 conferences" — a
decision that many attribute at least in part to his ongoing discussions with
von Suttner. In 1905, she won the Peace Prize herself.
Feared Being Buried Alive
19th century, it wasn't uncommon for people to worry about being live burial (Edgar Allan Poe's "The Premature Burial"
was published in 1844). In fact, Nobel's father was afraid of such a fate — at
one point, he wanted to build a coffin that allowed its occupant to call for
help, just in case.
out that Nobel shared his father's fears of being entombed alive, and placed
instructions in his will to prevent this: "It is my express will and
injunction that my veins shall be opened after my death." Only after
"competent doctors [had] noted definite signs of death" did Nobel
want his body cremated.
A Confusing Will
importance of Nobel Prizes today, it's hard to imagine a world without them.
Yet issues with Nobel's last testament mean that's almost what happened.
didn't like lawyers — he felt they made a living "by inducing people to
believe that a straight line is crooked" — and he therefore wrote his will
without any legal counsel. This helps explain why Nobel never checked to make
sure that the groups he selected would be willing to do the work needed to
award Nobel Prizes.
addition, Nobel wanted the bulk of his fortune to establish a fund for these
prizes, yet he didn't provide specifics about how that fund would be
administered. Yet more issues arose because some family members were not happy
to lose out on what would've been a large inheritance.
Obviously these problems were
eventually resolved. However, it took time, which is why the first prizes were
not awarded until 1901, five years after Nobel's death.
Clancy's comment: Mm ... Where there is a Will, there is a family.
I love watching and taking photographs of spider webs. They are a bit like lightning. You never know what you will get. Here is some background on how and why.
A Typical Spider Web
orb-spinning spider puts its elegant traps together pretty quickly, proceeding
easily from step to step according to the instruction manual pre-programmed into
Every web begins with a single thread, which
forms the basis of the rest of the structure. To establish this bridge, the spider
climbs to a suitable starting point (up a tree branch, for example) and
releases a length of thread into the wind.
With any luck, the free end of the thread will catch onto another branch. If
the spider feels that the thread has caught onto something, it cinches up the
silk and attaches the thread to the starting point.
across the thread, releasing a looser thread below the first one. It attaches
this thread on both ends and climbs to its center. The looser strand sags
downward, forming a V-shape. The spider lowers itself from this point, to form
a Y-shape. This forms the core support structure of the web.
easily grips the thin threads with special serrated claws, a smooth hook and a
series of barbed hairs on the end of its legs.
As it walks along the initial structural threads, it lays more frame threads between
various anchor points. Then it starts laying out radius threads from the
center of the web to the frames. The spider does not coat the frame and radius
threads with sticky material, since it needs to walk across them to get around
all the radius threads, the spider lays more nonstick silk to form an auxiliary spiral,
extending from the center of the web to the outer edge of the web. The spider
then spirals in on the web, laying out sticky thread and using the auxiliary
spiral as a reference. The spider eats up the auxiliary spiral as it lays out
the sticky spiral, resulting in a web with non-sticky radius threads, for
getting around, and a sticky spiral for catching bugs.
sits in the middle of its web, monitoring the radius threads for vibrations. If
an insect gets caught in any part of the web, the spider will feel the motion
through the radius threads and make its way to the vibration source. In this
way, the web extends the spider's sensory system over a much wider area. The
spider might also leave the web, to retreat to a separate nest, while
monitoring the web via a connected signal
spiders have an innate ability to tell the difference between vibrations from
insect prey and vibrations from other sources (a leaf falling into the web, for
Many species can also distinguish the characteristic vibrations of
dangerous insects, such as wasps, from their preferred prey. When the orb web has deteriorated and is no longer
useful, many spider species will destroy it, eating up all the threads so it
can recycle the raw silk material. Spiders may leave the heavy bridge thread so
that they can easily rebuild the web at a later point.
spiders catch their prey by spinning a web.
Clancy's comment: Being a photographer has helped me to learn amazing things about nature, by viewing things much closer through the lense.