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For kids: a different kind of gold medal

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"It is, of course, very exciting to have such an important recognition of my work," writes Dr. Sanger in a letter from his home in Cambridgeshire. "But the real pleasure was in the work itself. Scientific research is like an exploration of a voyage of discovery [with] scientists working together as a team for the good of humanity."

Which is precisely why Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel created the awards more than 100 years ago. Today, the Nobel Prize recognizes great achievements in the fields of chemistry, physics, and physiology/medicine, as well as in literature, peace, and economics.

Nobel was able to fund the award from the fortune he made by inventing dynamite. By mixing highly unstable nitroglycerin into a paste with a finely powdered sand, Nobel found it could be handled more safely. It was widely used in mining to blast rocks and carve out tunnels.

In later years, Nobel was distressed when his invention was adopted for military purposes and caused many deaths and injuries. So in 1895, a year before he died, Nobel decided to use his fortune for a good cause. In his will, he left about $4 million (equivalent to over $170 million today) to establish the Nobel Prize. Each award is now worth more than $1 million, although it is often split between two or three people. In addition to the money, each winner also receives a gold medal.

Gustaf Arrhenius, a scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California (and whose grandfather won a Nobel Prize in 1903), tells of the fascinating journey of one of those medals.

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