The Berkeley Daily Planet reports one rumour I heard:

The one Nobel Prize you won’t hear announced is for Mathematics―because, in contrast to Chemistry, Physics, and Literature, there is no Nobelity in Math. Rumor has it that it’s because of a sex scandal: Alfred Nobel’s wife had an affair with a mathematician.

The variant I have heard was that it was Alfred Nobel’s fiance.

Is this why there is no Nobel Prize for Mathematics?

  • According to our Privileges section, you should only use comments to request clarification from the author or leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving this post. Please review the When shouldn't I comment? section and act appropriately in the future.
    – Sklivvz
    Jan 8, 2014 at 21:26

1 Answer 1


This urban legend is false. According to The Prize's Rite and the peer-reviewed "Why is there no Nobel prize in Mathematics" he was never married and there is no written record of his motives except of his last will:

..the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction; and one part to the person who shall 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 congresses.

It is in the Nobel committee to fulfill his will of inventions and discoveries, that have been proven to be useful for the benefit to mankind. E.g. there was never a prize awarded for a new physical theory alone, just for a proven theory with an application. Einstein never got the prize for the special or general theory of relativity, he got it for the theory of photoelectric effect, that was measured and verified in an experiment and proven to be usefull in generating electricity.

There was actually a mathematician once awarded a Nobel prize 1994, John Nash, for his achivements in game theory. However, the commonly known Nobel prize in economics is the "Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, established in 1968 and endowed by Sweden's central bank".

There are also several noteworthy prizes in the field of mathematics: Abel Prize, Fields Medal, Chern Medal should be mentioned. Their combined prize money is even higher than the Nobel prize.

Ironically, if Mittag-Leffler was ever in dispute with Alfred Nobel, in the first few years after Nobel’s death in 1896, he was of

“decisive importance...in shaping the decisions and hence the international standing of the [Nobel] prizes” [p. 8, Crawford,The Beginnings of the Nobel Institution, Cambridge University Press, 1984]

  • John Nash got the Nobel in Economics for the theory he made as a student. He solved many more math problems, which gone unrecognized. To see his contribution, you can watch 'A Beautiful Mind' movie.
    – noob
    Jan 8, 2014 at 23:36
  • 3
    Meh. That economics thingy is decidedly not a "Nobel Prize". And just as well as it often seems to go in alternate years to people with opposing views. Jan 9, 2014 at 0:01
  • 3
    @noob "A beautiful mind" is highly criticized by mathematicians and even Nash himself, if I am not mistaken. It depicts a false myth according to which great mathematicians are crazy. Moreover, he proved other significant results, as you say, but they are not unrecognized by mathematicians (see, e.g. "Nash embedding theorem" on Wikipedia) ! Jun 23, 2016 at 1:38

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .