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Text 6

Reading and Speaking


    Nobel prizes were created by the will of Alfred Nobel, a notable Swedish chemist. Six Nobel Prizes are awarded each year, one in each of the following categories: literature , physics , chemistry , peace , economics , and physiology & medicine. Notably absent from this list is an award for Mathematics. 1 __________. One of the most common – and unfounded – reasons as to why Nobel decided against a Nobel Prize in mathematics is that [a woman he proposed to/his wife/his mistress] [rejected him because of/cheated him with] a famous mathematician. Gosta Mittag-Leffler is often claimed to be the guilty party.

There is no historical evidence to support the story, but here are some relevant facts.

    Nobel never married, hence no ‘wife’. (He did have a mistress, a Viennese woman named Sophie Hess.)

Gosta Mittag-Leffler was an important mathematician in Sweden in the late 19th-early 20th century 2 __________. However, it seems highly unlikely that he would have been a leading candidate for an early Nobel Prize in mathematics. 3_ __________.

    There is no evidence that Mittag-Leffler had much contact with Alfred Nobel, who lived in Paris during the latter part of his life, still less that there was animosity between them for whatever reason. To the contrary, towards the end of Nobel’s life Mittag-Leffler was engaged in ‘diplomatic’ talks to try to persuade Nobel to give a substantial part of his fortune to the Hogskola. 4 __________. Although initially Nobel seems to have intended to do this, eventually he came up with the Nobel Prize idea – much to the disappointment of the Hogscola, not to mention Nobel’s relatives and Fraulein Hess.

    Although it is not known how those in responsible positions at the Hogskola came to believe that a large sum was forthcoming, this indeed was the expectation, and the disappointment was keen when it was announced early in 1897 that the Hogskola was not in Nobel’s final will. 5 __________. This is only of interest because it may have contributed to the myth that Nobel had planned to institute a prize in mathematics but had refrained because of his antipathy to Mittag-Leffler or – in another version of the same story – because of their rivalry for the affections of a woman...

    However, a letter by R. C. Archibald has been discovered in the archives of Brown University. Archibald visited Mittag-Leffler and, on his report, it would seem that Mittag-Leffler ‘believed’ that the absence of a Nobel Prize in mathematics was due to an estrangement between the two men. 6__________. For the time being then, the truth still lies buried with Nobel.

    Nobel, an inventor and industrialist, might not have created a prize in mathematics simply because he was not particularly interested in mathematics or theoretical science. 7 __________. Probably as a result of this, the physics prize has been awarded for experimental work much more often than for advances in theory.

    However, the story of some rivalry over a woman is obviously much more amusing, and that’s why it will probably continue to be repeated.


I. Match the words (1–7) with their definitions/explanations (a–g):

1 notable a after a long time, or after a lot of things have happened
2 to be guilty b important, interesting, excellent or unusual enough to be noticed or mentioned
3 animosity c to make someone decide to do smth, especially by giving them reasons why they should do it, or asking them many times to do it
4 to persuade d feeling very ashamed and sad because you know that you have done smth wrong
5 eventually e strong dislike or hatred
6 to refrain f a situation in which two or more people, teams, or companies are competing for smth, especially over a long period of time
7 rivalry g to not do smth that you want to do

II. Read the text. Seven sentences have been removed from it. Choose from the choices ( а – і ) the one which fits each gap (1–7). There are two choices you do not need to use.

a. He was the founder of the journal ‘Acta Mathematica’, played an important role in helping the career of Sonya Kovalevskaya, and was eventually head of the Stockholm Hogskola, the precursor to Stockholm University.

b. It seems hardly likely that he would have undertaken this if there was prior bad blood between them.

c. At the time there existed already a well-known Scandinavian prize for mathematicians.

d. The reason for this conspicuous omission has been subject of extensivespeculations, some of which are discussed below.

e. So, apart from Arrhenius and Pettersson’s accusations, the written Archibalds testimony that Mittag-Leffler at least believed that he and Nobel were estranged is the only historical evidence on the matter.

f. If there had been one – there were guys like Poincare and Hilbert around, after all.

g. His will speak of prizes for those ‘inventions or discoveries’ of greatest practical benefit to mankind.

h. Pettersson and Arrhenius, academic rivals of Mittag-Leffler in the administration of theHogskola, let it be known that Nobel’s dislike for Mittag-Leffler had brought about what Pettersson called the `Nobel Flop’.

i. There are more credible reasons as to why there is no Nobel Prize in mathematics.

II. For (1–3) choose T if the statement is true according to the text, Fif it is false or NGif the information is not givenin the text.

1. There are no obvious facts and signs showing that Nobel and Mittag-Leffler hated each other.

2. Nobel’s relatives supported the idea of creating Nobel prizes.

3. Nobel may have left mathematicians out of his will because he didn’t particularly like Mathematics.


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