October 21

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Alfred Nobel
1833–96, Swedish chemist and inventor.

Educated in St. Petersburg, Russia, he traveled as a youth and returned to St. Petersburg in 1852 to assist his father in the development of torpedoes and mines. Manufacture of a mixture of nitroglycerine and gunpowder, developed cooperatively by the family, was begun in the small Nobel works in Heleneborg, near Stockholm, in 1863. After a number of serious explosions, which killed several people, Nobel continued experimentation with nitroglycerine in order to find a safer explosive. In 1866 he perfected a combination of nitroglycerine and kieselguhr, a diatomaceous earth, to which he gave the name dynamite. His other inventions include an explosive gelatin more powerful than dynamite and the smokeless powder Ballistite. Nobel, who inclined toward pacifism, had long had reservations about his family's industry, and he developed strong misgivings about the potential uses of his own invention. On his death in San Remo, Italy, he left a fund from the interest of which annual awards, called Nobel Prizes, were to be given for work in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and literature, and toward the promotion of international peace.

Bibliography:

See biography by H. Schück et al., Nobel: The Man and His Prizes (3d ed. 1972).


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