The winners of the Kavli prizes for neuroscience, nanoscience, and astrophysics were announced today in Oslo, Norway, marking the first time that the three $1 million prizes have been awarded.
Norwegian-born philanthropist Fred Kavli said at a press conference that he set up the prizes to promote science in three fields that he feels would benefit from more public attention.
Louis Brus of Columbia University and Sumio Iijima of Meijo University in Nagoya, Japan, shared the nanoscience prize. Brus was honored for his groundbreaking findings on nanocrystal semiconductors, known as quantum dots, and Iijima for his work on carbon nanotubes. Brus's work could pave the way for advanced cancer drugs or solar cells; Iijima's findings have already led to ingredients to make stronger clothing and cements.
Maarten Schmidt of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and Donald Lynden-Bell of Cambridge University in the U.K. shared the astrophysics prize for work related to quasars. Schmidt was the first to discover a quasar--an extremely bright object powered by a black hole--when he found a luminous object in our galaxy called 3C273 in 1963. Lynden-Bell theorized in 1969 that quasars got their brightness from the friction caused by a rotating band of gas, called the accretion disk.
The neuroscience prize will be shared by Sten Grillner of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, Pasko Rakic of Yale University School of Medicine, and Thomas Jessell of Columbia University. Grillner spelled out how patterns of neuronal circuitry affect locomotion; Rakic and Jessell explained how neurons develop in the embryonic brain and spinal cord, respectively. "The work of Rakic and Jessell has provided, for the first time, a general framework for understanding the assembly of neural circuits within the mammalian brain," the Kavli foundation said in its commendation.
The Kavli foundation, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, and Norway's Ministry of Education and Research organized the annual prize and will hold a ceremony in Oslo in September to formally present the awards.