10 Nobel Laureates Whose Work Changed the World

New York City is home to this monument honoring Albert Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize.
New York City is home to this monument honoring Albert Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize.
Mario Tama/News/Getty Images

Our Earth teems with billions of human beings, all working, thinking, playing and plotting their way through the maze-like distractions of daily living. Amid the chaos, some of us remain focused and disciplined enough to forge entirely new ways of approaching life, the universe and the meaning of it all. And some of those people win Nobel Prizes.

Nobel Prizes aren't your run-of-the-mill, sticky-backed, gold-star award. Established in 1895 by the will of Swedish inventor and philanthropist Alfred Nobel, the prizes recognize advances in scientific and cultural fields -- literature, peace, economics, chemistry, physics and medicine.

The recipients, called laureates, receive a diploma, a gold medal and a cash prize that, these days, generally exceeds $1 million. All prizes must go to individuals, with the exception of the Peace Prize, which can be awarded to an organization. Sometimes, the prizes are awarded to multiple people, but rules stipulate that each prize can be shared by no more than three.

First awarded in 1901, the Nobel prizes have since been given out 573 times to 900 people and organizations. Some people have received the awards more than once. Typically, each prize is awarded every year, but in years where there are no exceptional accomplishments befitting a Nobel, a prize may sit idle.

The prizes are, shall we say, a big deal. But more important is the work that they recognize. Laureates are the thinking person's thinkers, people who dedicate their lives to unveiling the secrets of our existence. In doing so, they help propel humankind's collective intelligence higher. In this article, we'll introduce you to 10 of these game-changing individuals.