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How Do Nobel Winners Spend Their Prize Money?

Posted October. 17, 2009 08:30,   


Nobel laureates receive not just the honor of the world’s most prestigious award but also 1.4 million dollars in prize money. So how do they choose to spend this sum?

U.S. President Barack Obama, the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, said he will donate the entire amount to multiple charitable organizations, but has yet to decide on the recipients. Hence, the New York Times is surveying its readers through the blog “The Caucus” on where he should donate the money.

Readers have provided a bunch of suggestions, with some saying world peace, the Treasury Department for debt repayment, or the jobless or underprivileged families,” views that reflect the economic crisis.

One minority opinion says Obama should keep the money himself in preparation for the end of his term.

Many past Nobel Peace Prize laureates donated their prize money entirely or partially to philanthropic organizations in consideration of the award’s nature.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who won in 2007, donated his prize money to environmental organizations. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, the 2002 winner, gave most of his prize to the Carter Center and The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, which is named after him and his wife.

U.S. human rights activist Martin Luther King, the 1964 winner, donated his prize money to human rights organizations.

The late Korean President Kim Dae-jung, the 2000 winner, gave 300 million won (258,000 U.S. dollars) of his prize money to the Kim Dae-jung Library at Yonsei University in Seoul.

Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, the 1906 winner, postponed reception of his prize, citing an inability to visit Europe to receive the prize while in office. Upon receiving the prize after his term ended, he collected the money and donated part of it to a peace foundation. The remainder went to trusted acquaintances, including his sister-in-law, who worked as Red Cross volunteer in Italy.

Former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, the 1920 laureate, deposited the amount in a Swedish bank in preparation for his retirement, and received five percent in annual interest.

Winners of other Nobel prizes except that for peace have used their prize money for various purposes. Albert Einstein, the 1921 winner for physics, gave his prize money to his ex-wife Mileva Maric, who helped him write a thesis on the theory of relativity.

He promised to give her the prize money as alimony if he won the Nobel prize after being caught having an affair with a mistress.

When asked what the Nobel Prize meant to her, Austrian novelist Elfriede Jelinek, the 2004 winner for literature, answered “financial independence,” indicating she would spend the money herself.

MIT professor Franco Modigliani of Italy, the 1985 winner for economics, bought a yacht, while fellow MIT professor Wolfgang Ketterle, the 2001 winner for physics, bought a house and funded his children’s education.

Rockefeller University professor Paul Greengard, the 2000 winner for physiology and medicine, created the Pearl Meister Greengard Prize in honor of his mother, who died giving birth to him.