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Posted: May 28, 2008

Names of inaugural Kavli Prize winners revealed

(Nanowerk News) Seven pioneering scientists who have transformed human knowledge in the fields of nanoscience, neuroscience and astrophysics have become the first recipients of the million-dollar Kavli prizes.
The laureates were selected for their groundbreaking research that has significantly advanced our understanding of the unusual properties of matter on an ultra-small scale, the basic circuitry of the human brain and the nature of quasars.
They are the inaugural recipients of the new Kavli prizes, a partnership between the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, The Kavli Foundation, and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. The three biannual awards will complement the Nobel Prizes which since 1901 have been given for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace.
The joint seven winners, from the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands, Japan and the US, will receive a scroll, medal and a share of the $1,000,000 prize for each subject. Ole Didrik Lærum, President of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, revealed the names of those selected to receive the awards at a ceremony in Oslo. The announcement was transmitted via a live simulcast to Columbia University, New York, where it was part of the opening of the first annual World Science Festival.
The Kavli Prize is named after and funded by Fred Kavli, the entrepreneur and philanthropist who was inspired to seek a career in science and engineering while marvelling at the northern lights in the skies above the tiny Norwegian village where he grew up. He later moved to the US where he founded the Kavlico Corporation, which became one of the world’s largest suppliers of sensors for aeronautic, automotive and industrial application.
Attending the ceremony in New York, Mr Kavli said: “The Kavli Prizes were created to recognize achievements in three exceptionally exciting fields which we believe promise remarkable future discoveries and benefits for humanity in the 21st century and beyond.”
“Since my days in Norway, I have pondered the universe, the planet, nature, and the wonders of man. Through these prizes, we hope to honour, support and bring recognition to scientists who have not only pondered the same questions, but whose work has profoundly advanced the frontiers of our knowledge.
“We aim to do so while raising people’s awareness of the benefits of fundamental science to their own, everyday lives.”
The astrophysics prize was awarded jointly to Maarten Schmidt, of the California Institute of Technology, US, and Donald Lynden-Bell, of Cambridge University, UK, both of whose work underpins our understanding of quasars.
During the 1960s Schmidt analysed the visible light spectra of quasars and used the results to explain just how distant these extraordinarily bright galaxies are, while Lynden-Bell demonstrated how they were powered by the collapse of material into massive black holes.
Louis E. Brus, of Columbia University, US, and Sumio Iijima, of Meijo University in Japan, share the nanoscience prize for their respective discoveries of colloidal semiconductor nanocrystals, also known as quantum dots, and carbon nanotubes.
Major advances being predicted in fields as diverse as electronics, the environment, energy and bio-medicine would not have been possible without Brus and Iijima’s contributions in explaining the unusual properties of particles so small that electron motion is confined to zero or one dimension. The neuroscience prize goes to three scientists who collectively have deciphered the basic mechanisms which govern the development and functioning of the networks of cells in the brain and spinal cord.
Pasko Rakic, of the Yale University School of Medicine, in the US, explained how the neurons in the embryonic brain arrange themselves during development into the complex, densely interconnected circuitry of the adult cerebral cortex.
Thomas Jessell, of Columbia University, US, has revealed the chemical signals behind the differentiation of early progenitor cells into the complex assembly of different types of neurons that make up neuronal circuits.
Sten Grillner, of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden showed how neural circuits in mammalian spinal cords generate motor commands for rhythmic movements such as locomotion. His lamprey model is seen as the first and so far only vertebrate neuronal system controlling an integrated function that is understood at a molecular and cellular level.
Prof Sir Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, the UK’s academy of science, said: “The Kavli prizes highlight three challenging and important fields of research. The choice of winners highlights the international character of modern science, and illustrates that many major advances depends on cooperative and group efforts rather than single individuals.”
For detailed information on each of the prizes, the winners and their work, see explanatory notes for each of the prizes on the Kavli Prize website: www.kavliprize.no
Source: The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters