Discover the History Making Achievements of Nobel Laureates Past and Present
Each year, Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, Peace and Economics are awarded to “those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.”
In 2022, fourteen laureates were awarded this distinctive prize. Their work and discoveries range from quantum mechanics and research on human evolution to documenting war crimes and the role of banks in financial crises. During Nobel Week, December 6-12th, celebrations and events take place in Stockholm, Sweden and Oslo, Norway as well as digitally. Each year’s laureates give lectures describing the history and background of their discoveries, literature, or globally impactful work, and the annual Nobel Prize Concert is held to honor them all. An award ceremony on December 10th takes place, celebrating the laureates on the anniversary of the prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death.
The Nobel prizes were conceived of in 1895 by Alfred Nobel, a Swedish engineer, inventor, businessman, and philanthropist, when he signed his last will and testament, committing his vast fortune to establishing awards in an original five categories. It wasn’t until 1901 that these prizes were awarded to the first Nobel Laureates — a term inspired by Ancient Greece, where laurel wreaths, or crowns made of branches and leaves, were bestowed on athletic and poetic victors as a sign of honor. In 1968, Sweden’s central bank, Sveriges Riksbank, established a sixth prize: The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.
Bring the achievements of past Nobel Prize laureates to life with a selection of PBS LearningMedia videos, activities and lesson plans below. Ready-to-use Nobel Prize Lessons and animated games are also available for educators courtesy of the Nobel Prize’s Education Network.
Nobel Laureate George Smoot and the Origin of the Universe
Grades 6-12 George F. Smoot, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, shared the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics with John C. Mather for their work on the early beginnings of the universe. In this video from QUEST produced by KQED, meet Dr. Smoot and learn about tools astronomers use to find information about the universe.
Grades 6-12 Over 100 years ago, Albert Einstein grappled with the implications of his revolutionary special theory of relativity and came to a startling conclusion: mass and energy are one, related by the formula E = mc2. In Einstein’s Big Idea, NOVA dramatizes the remarkable story behind this equation. E = mc2 was just one of several extraordinary breakthroughs that Einstein made in 1905, including the completion of his special theory of relativity, his identification of proof that atoms exist, and his explanation of the nature of light, which would win him the Nobel Prize in Physics.
Grades K-2 Learn about award winning scientist Marie Curie with this video clip, printable biosketch reader, and support materials from Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum. Take the learning even further with this printable Matching Game to help Marie Curie match the similar bottles!
Did You Know? Marie Curie, alongside her husband Pierre, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 for their research on the radiation phenomena originally discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel. Marie was widowed in 1906, but continued her and Pierre’s work, going on to become the first person ever to be awarded two Nobel Prizes. This 1911 Nobel Award in Chemistry was for the discovery of the radioactive elements radium and polonium, and the study and documentation of their properties and compounds. Radioactive compounds became important as sources of radiation in both scientific experiments and in the field of medicine, where they are used to treat tumors.
Using Directed Evolution to Solve Problems | Beyond the Elements
Grades 6-12 In these videos from NOVA: Beyond the Elements, learn how scientist Frances Arnold, a chemical engineer and 2008 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, is using directed evolution to create molecules to solve problems. In 1993, Arnold conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes, which are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. The uses of Arnold’s scientific contributions include more environmentally friendly manufacturing of chemical substances, such as pharmaceuticals, and the production of renewable fuels.
Grades 6-12 Learn how Dr. Eric Kandel, 2000 Nobel Prize Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, discovered the biological basis of memory formation, in this video from NOVA: Memory Hackers. To better understand how human memories form, Kandel turns to the giant sea slug, Aplysia californica. He first creates a long-lasting memory in the sea slug. Next, he reconstructs a single neural circuit using a sensory and motor neuron extracted from the slug. Kandel then uses the same memory formation technique used in the slug to create a memory within the neural circuit. As the memory forms, new synaptic connections begin to grow, revealing for the first time that memory involves anatomical changes in the brain. Using today’s imaging technology, Kandel describes how the process unfolds.
Grades 6-12 Discover the story of researcher Sir Alexander Fleming, awardee of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945, whose luck and scientific reasoning led to the groundbreaking discovery of penicillin in this video segment adapted from A Science Odyssey.
Grades 6-12 Author Ernest Miller Hemingway was a powerful influence on 20th century fiction. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954, he was praised for his mastery of the art of narrative, specifically his novel The Old Man and the Sea, as well as his indelible influence on contemporary writing of the time. Learn more about the author with the Ken Burns in the Classroom collection for the film Hemingway. The collection examines the visionary work and turbulent life of the writer, providing key information about Hemingway the artist, Hemingway the man, and resources to help modern audiences better understand the world in which he lived.
Grades 9-12 Toni Morrison is truly an American treasure, a writer all students should encounter and critically examine as part of their journey in understanding American identity. She was the author of 11 novels, recipient of both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award, and winner of a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. Learn more about the author with the American Masters: Toni Morrison collection. Explore videos, activities, and discussion questions related to the film Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, which presents her extraordinary life and artistry.
Theodore Roosevelt | Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum
Grades K-2 Learn about President Theodore Roosevelt with this printable biosketch reader and support materials from Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum. Use the associated graphic organizers to support comprehension, research, and assessment in the classroom and at home.
Did You Know? Theodore Roosevelt is revered for his conflict resolution skills. In 1906 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his settling of the Portsmouth Treaty during the Russo-Japanese War over Manchuria and Korea. This made Roosevelt the first American to be awarded any Nobel Prize. Learn more about the Treaty of Portsmouth and Roosevelt’s role in global affairs of the time with the video “Theodore Roosevelt Wins the Nobel Peace Prize” from the Ken Burns in the Classroom collection (grades 6-12).
Grades 6-12 Show your students the story of an extraordinary young Pakistani education activist and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, with this video and educational material from PBS NewsHour. After surviving an attack on her life in 2012, Malala recovered and has dedicated herself to the goal that every child everywhere will receive an education.
Kenneth Arrow Asserts the Economy Is Built on Science
Grades 6-12 Hear Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow, awardee of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in 1972, talk about the relationship between scientific innovation and economic progress. Students will recognize that the way we view science today is built upon the past centuries of discovery and growth and that our future depends on continuing to build upon current scientific knowledge.