15 Facts About the Nobel Prize

1. Robert Lucas, winner of the 1995 economics prize for his work on the theory of "rational expectations," split his $1 million prize with his ex-wife. A clause in their divorce settlement from seven years earlier had stipulated that "wife shall receive 50 percent of any Nobel Prize." The clause expired on October 31, 1995. Had Lucas won any year after that, he would have kept the whole prize.

2. Physicist Lise Meitner, whose work helped lead to the discovery of nuclear fission, was reportedly nominated for the Nobel Prize 13 times without ever winning. This makes her the Dynasty of the Nobel Prize scene (the show was nominated for 24 Emmy Awards but never won). 

3. In 2007, two winners had a combined age of 177. At 90, professor Leonid Hurwicz is the oldest person to ever win (one-third of the Prize in Economics); at 87, writer Doris Lessing is the oldest woman (Literature).

4. DNA expert Kary Mullis "“ 1993 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry "“ was scheduled to be a defense witness in O.J. Simpson's murder trial. However, Simpson lawyer Barry Scheck felt the prosecution's DNA case was already essentially destroyed, and he didn't want Mullis' personal life to distract jurors (read: he'd expressed an affinity for LSD and surfing.)

5. In the last 10 years, the Nobel Prize in Literature has gone for the first time to authors in Portugal, China, Trinidad & Tobago, Hungary, Austria and Turkey [source].

6. Nobel laureates you must know: Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Elie Wiesel, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Jimmy Carter, Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett, Pierre & Marie Curie, Max Planck and Albert Einstein.

7. Big names who never won: Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Mangesh Hattikudur, Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, Paul Tagliabue, Henrik Ibsen, Thomas Edison and Mahatma Gandhi.

8. The following people refused the Prize:

Le Duc Tho was awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize with Henry Kissinger for their roles in brokering a Vietnam cease fire at the Paris Peace Accords. Citing the absence of actual peace in Vietnam, Tho declined to accept.

Jean Paul Sartre waved off the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature. His explanation: "It is not the same thing if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre or if I sign Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize winner. A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if it takes place in the most honorable form."

Afraid of Soviet retribution, Boris Pasternak declined to accept the 1958 Prize in Literature, which he'd earned for Doctor Zhivago. The Academy refused his refusal. "This refusal, of course, in no way alters the validity of the award. There remains only for the Academy, however, to announce with regret that the presentation of the Prize cannot take place."

Erik Axel Karlfeldt won for Literature in 1918. He did not accept because he was Secretary of the Swedish Academy, which awards the prize. He was given the award posthumously in 1931.

9. As part of his divorce settlement, Einstein's Nobel Prize money went to his ex-wife, Mileva Maric.

10. Winners without the greatest reputations:

Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, who won in 1976 for his research in human slow-virus infections, spent 19 months in jail after pleading guilty in 1997 to charges of child molestation.

Johannes Fibiger won in 1926 after discovering parasitic worms cause cancer "“ a breakthrough that turned out to not be true.

Yasser Arafat shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. This decision caused Nobel Committee member Kare Kristiansen to resign. "What consequences will result," he asked at the time, "when a terrorist with such a background is awarded the world's most prestigious prize?"

William Shockley won for Physics in 1956 for his role in the invention of the semiconductor. But his support of the eugenics movement alienated the scientific community. Shockley also donated sperm to the Repository for Germinal Choice, a sperm bank developed to spread humanity's best genes (Slate did a great series on this in 2001.)

11. The first Nobel Laureates collected 150,800 Swedish kronor (about $15,420 today). The stakes have been raised. This year's prize was $1.5 million "“ shared in the case of multiple winners.

12. The Curie family is a Nobel Prize machine, winning five: Pierre and Marie for Physics in 1901; Marie solo for Chemistry in 1911; daughter Irene and her husband Frederic Joliot-Curie for Chemistry in 1935; and Henry Labouisse, who was married to Pierre and Marie's daughter Eve, accepted on behalf of UNICEF in 1965.

13. Marie Curie's second prize was marred by scandal. Then a widow, Curie had an affair with a married scientist, Paul Langevin "“ a former pupil of Pierre Curie. Love letters were involved, eventually leading to a duel between Langevin and the editor of the newspaper that had printed them (no shots were actually fired.) When it was suggested that she not accept the prize, she wrote a shrewd letter, in which "she pointed out that she had been awarded the Prize for her discovery of radium and polonium, and that she could not accept the principle that appreciation of the value of scientific work should be influenced by slander concerning a researcher's private life."

14. Alfred Nobel "“ inventor of dynamite "“ may have been inspired to create the Nobel Prize after a premature obituary in a French newspaper called him a "merchant of death."

15. Nobel died on December 10, 1896. The formal awards ceremony is held in Stockholm each year on the anniversary of his death. The first awards show took place on December 10, 1901. These things take time to plan.

And in case you were wondering just how much of a say Alfred Nobel had in the prize, here's his will:

The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way:

The capital shall be invested by my executors in safe securities and shall constitute a fund, 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 on 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 of an idealistic tendency; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

The prizes for physics and chemistry shall be awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; that for physiological or medical works by the Caroline Institute in Stockholm; that for literature by the Academy in Stockholm; and that for champions of peace by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting. It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, so that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be Scandinavian or not.

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

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This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

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6 Effective Tips for Coping With Panic Attacks

Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels
Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels

If you suddenly find yourself having an abrupt feeling of fear paired with anxiety or an overwhelming sense that you are losing control, you might be experiencing a panic attack. A panic attack, which can last for minutes or hours, can manifest in physical symptoms that some sufferers compare to a heart attack. And if you've ever had one, you're far from alone.

Each year, up to 11 percent of Americans experience panic attacks—though that percentage could rise in 2020. Using Google Trends, researchers have noted a significant increase in searches related to panic attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it’s not entirely conclusive, it's clear that people need to be paying attention to their mental health right now as much as they are their physical well-being.

“I have seen a huge increase in those experiencing panic attacks and other forms of anxiety during lockdown,” psychotherapist and coach Sarie Taylor tells Mental Floss. She attributes it to the uncertainty and unpredictability of the pandemic.

If you're prone to panic attacks, here are several methods you can use to help cope. Keep in mind that these techniques are not mutually exclusive, so you might find that practicing two or three of them at once is the fastest way to alleviate the symptoms brought on by a panic attack. Nor should you become frustrated if they don't always work for you. Every person and every panic attack is different. “Do not be disheartened if they do not always seem to work for you," Taylor says. "Your mind will always eventually settle regardless.”

1. Control your breathing.

Changes in breathing patterns and shortness of breath during panic attacks are common, but it can heighten the feeling of suffocation that some people experience. To address this, try common breathing techniques such as the 4-7-8 exercise [PDF] or roll breathing (also known as abdominal breathing). Deep breathing, or breath focus, is a great strategy to lower your heart rate, stabilize your blood pressure, and lower your stress levels. If you can control your breathing, the panic may subside and you can reduce some of your other symptoms.

2. Connect with your current environment.

To de-escalate the overwhelming emotions that often come with a panic attack and bring your focus to the present, it helps to engage your senses. You may be able to do this through visualization exercises, like imagining yourself sitting by the ocean or wherever you're happiest. Another effective method is the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique, where you acknowledge five things you can see around you, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This can be a great way to distract yourself from intrusive thoughts and focus on the sensations you can physically experience in that moment instead.

3. Grab an ice cube.

If you feel that breathing and relaxation exercises don’t bring enough relief, some people are able to lessen the effects of a panic with ice cubes. Holding an ice cube in your hand for as long as you can, or putting it inside your mouth until it melts, brings enough discomfort to divert your body’s response away from panic. If you put the ice cube in your mouth, it forces your body to produce more saliva, activating the parasympathetic nervous system and halting the fight-or-flight response that panic attacks typically trigger.

According to Taylor, when you hold something stimulating, it appeals to the senses and becomes difficult to ignore. This means that your attention goes to the ice’s temperature and texture. Like all methods, it’s not equally effective for everyone and experiences may vary.

4. Relax your muscles.

Progressive muscle relaxation is an anxiety and stress management technique that relieves tension from the body [PDF]. The practice is done by lying down, tensing a muscle group for up to 10 seconds, relaxing it, then moving on to another muscle group. You can start from head to toe or vice versa, or begin with your hands and then work your way through your body. Concentrating on how your muscles tense and relax helps you let go of the negative feelings a panic attack brings on.

5. Challenge your brain.

It’s not easy to shake off negative thoughts, especially as they increasingly worsen. To force your brain to think of something else, engage in small mental exercises. This includes anything from counting backward from 100 in threes or reciting the alphabet backward to counting how many letters there are in your full name or reciting all the colors you can think of or see. By completing these exercises, even imperfectly, you can distract yourself enough to potentially reduce your symptoms.

The effectiveness of such exercises depends on how invested you are in your anxious thoughts. “The earlier you notice your mind getting busy, the easier these techniques may be,” Taylor says.

6. Take your prescribed medications.

Seeing a doctor and getting treatment for frequent panic attacks is important because they can become worse over time. There are a variety of medications that can help with panic attacks, but according to the Mayo Clinic, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most effective choice for panic attacks. Take your medication(s) as prescribed, and try to be aware of how well and quickly they work for you, so that you can talk with your doctor to make sure you're taking the best medication for your symptoms.