The History of Mathematics

Into Modern Mathematics

Why is mathematics never offered as a Nobel Prize?

The Nobel Prizes were established at the bequest of Swedish chemical engineer Alfred Bernhard Nobel (1833–1896), the discoverer of dynamite. First awarded in 1901, the Nobel Prizes honor the fields of chemistry, physics, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace; a prize in economics was added in 1969, but there is not an award for mathematics.

The lack of a mathematics prize has many stories attached, including one that states Nobel’s wife jilted him for Norwegian mathematician Magnus Gosta Mittag-Leffler, a notion made implausible by the fact that Nobel never married. Most historians agree, however, that the reason has to do with Nobel’s attitude toward mathematics: He simply did not consider mathematics sufficiently practical.


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