Three scientists who discovered the circadian clocks and how they are regulated in humans and animals won the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine on Monday. But they are just the first to receive an award in 2017—there will be one prize announced every weekday until October 9.
But what did they actually win? How does one win a Nobel Prize? Here are some answers to keep in mind as the next sets of winners are announced.
Is there an actual prize?
Yes. Besides the right to call themselves Nobel laureates, each winner also receives a (rather heavy) gold medal and a cash prize. The prize’s value has varied over time, both because the foundation that manages the investments funding the prize have changed the amount and because the exchange rate for Swedish krona can shift. This year, the prize is worth about $1.1 million. The medal is also worth hundreds of thousands of dollars on its own.
There are also the unofficial perks. The 2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry winner, Martin Chalfie, told The New York Times about special invitations he got to movie showings after he won the prize. Laureates on staff at the University of California at Berkeley get special parking spaces. But Niels Bohr may have gotten the best perk of all. A few years after he won the prize in 1922, he was chosen to move into a house with a direct access to his next door neighbors—a Carlsberg brewery.
How many prizes are there?
There are five Nobel Prizes and one “memorial prize.” The original five established by Alfred Nobel’s will in 1901 covered literature, peace, chemistry, physics and physiology and medicine. In 1968, Sweden’s central bank started a memorial prize to honor economists. (That one isn’t actually a Nobel Prize—it’s the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.)
Of course, other areas have their own Nobel-like prizes. For example, mathematicians can’t win a Nobel but can win a Fields Medal, often thought of as being as prestigious as a Nobel.
Who can win a Nobel Prize?
The Nobel Prize recognizes people who have “conferred the greatest benefit to mankind” or made a very important discovery. Each award is given for one particular achievement, not for a lifetime of work. Nevertheless, awards are rarely given to recent discoveries. Many have said that the discovery of gene editing technique CRISPR will likely win a Nobel Prize, but it may still be too soon.
Though rules about who can nominate someone for a Nobel Prize vary slightly across disciplines, one rule is true for all of them: You can’t nominate yourself for a Nobel Prize.
Want to up your chances of winning a Nobel? Be an older man living in the United States. The average age of prizewinners is 59 years, and the U.S. claims far more laureates than any other country in the world. Only 48 women have ever won the award, out of 904 total as of 2016.
Is the Nobel Prize controversial?
Sometimes. Above and beyond the award committee’s tendency to favor older men in Western countries, the prize has generated controversy either because of the Nobel committee’s decision to recognize or to not recognize someone’s work or because of comments or decisions an award winner made earlier in life. For example, Mahatma Gandhi, who led the nonviolent Indian independence movement, never won the peace prize. Former U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull won the Peace Prize for helping start the United Nations, despite his role in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s decision to refuse entry to the SS St. Louis, a ship carrying nearly 1,000 Jewish people escaping Germany in 1939.
Ultimately, of course, Nobel Prize winners are just people with the same flaws as the rest of us. But with some outstanding perks.