The Second-Noblest Nation

Each December, the Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm and Oslo. This is an area where the United States continues to excel, having produced far more Nobel Laureates than any other nation. We wonder: Which country ranks second in its number of Nobel Prize winners?

A. Germany
B. Sweden
C. United Kingdom
D. Switzerland

A. Germany is not correct.

From the awards' inception in 1901 through 2008, a total of 80 Germans have received Nobel Prizes. That is an impressive 9.9% of the 809 Nobel Laureates who have received prizes. In 2009, the writer Herta Müller will be the lone German to receive a Nobel Prize, bringing the country's total to 81.

Germany won many awards in the Nobels' early decades, with 43 Germans winning prizes between 1901 and 1939. This performance reflects the importance of German science in the first half of the 20th century, which included many German Jews among its ranks.

B. Sweden is not correct.

Swedish bodies decide on the award recipients in all fields, except for the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, who are selected by a Norwegian committee.

Sweden, the primary host country, has had a total of 28 award recipients. It actually ranks second in the world when the number of Nobel Prize winners is measured on a per capita basis, with 3.02 laureates per million inhabitants.

C. United Kingdom is correct.

A total of 107 Britons have won Nobel Prizes, making the United Kingdom the second-best performer behind the United States, with its 306 laureates through 2008. In December 2009, nine Americans will be awarded prizes, bringing the country's total to 315. In addition, two Britons will be added to the ranks of Nobel Laureates, bringing the UK's total to 109.

India and China are currently underrepresented when it comes to Nobel Laureates. The same holds true for women, who have so far received only 5% of all Nobel Prizes. However, trends suggest that these groups will be better-represented in coming years.

D. Switzerland is not correct.

Switzerland is actually the top performer in the world when Nobel Laureates are measured on a per capita basis among the countries with multiple winners, with 3.23 winners per million inhabitants.

Other strong performers in that category are Denmark and Norway (ranking third and fourth, respectively). Meanwhile, the UK has managed to produce 1.77 laureates for every million of its population — while the United States and Germany both have about one Nobel Laureate per million of population.

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