The Kavli Prize to Nine Pioneering Scientists


Today, 6 September, The Kavli Prize is awarded during a ceremony in Oslo, honoring nine scientists from Germany, Switzerland, the UK and USA.

On June 2nd, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters announced the 2016 Kavli Prize Laureates in Astrophysics, Nanoscience, and Neuroscience. The winners will receive a gold medal, a scroll and their share of the prize money.

The Kavli Prize 2016
The Kavli Prize 2016

This year’s laureates were selected for the direct detection of gravitational waves, the invention and realization of atomic force microscopy, and for the discovery of mechanisms that allow experience and neural activity to remodel brain function.

The Kavli Prize in Astrophysics
is shared between Ronald W.P. Drever and Kip S. Thorne, both from the California Institute of Technology, USA, and Rainer Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. They receive the prize “for the direct detection of gravitational waves”.

The signal picked up by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) in the US on September 14, 2015, lasted just a fifth of a second but brought to an end a decades-long hunt to directly detect the ripples in space-time known as gravitational waves. It also opened up a completely new way of doing astronomy, which uses gravitational rather than electromagnetic radiation to study some of the most extreme and violent phenomena in the universe.

This detection has, in a single stroke and for the first time, validated Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity for very strong fields, established the nature of gravitational waves, demonstrated the existence of black holes with masses 30 times that of our sun, and opened a new window on the universe.

The detection of gravitational waves is an achievement for which hundreds of scientists, engineers and technicians around the world share credit. Drever, Thorne and Weiss stand out: their ingenuity, inspiration, intellectual leadership and tenacity were the driving force behind this epic discovery.

The Kavli Prize in Nanoscience
is shared between Gerd Binnig, Former Member of IBM Zurich Research Laboratory, Switzerland, Christoph Gerber, University of Basel, Switzerland, and Calvin Quate, Stanford University, USA. They receive the prize “for the invention and realization of atomic force microscopy, a breakthrough in measurement technology and nanosculpting that continues to have a transformative impact on nanoscience and technology”.

The realization of the atomic force microscope was reported by Binnig, Gerber and Quate in 1986, with a demonstration that the instrument could be used to obtain profiles of a solid-state surface with close to atomic resolution.

In the last 30 years the instrument has evolved dramatically and has provided fundamental insight into the chemistry and physics of a large variety of surfaces. It is still widely used today as a versatile tool for imaging and manipulation in a broad range of scientific disciplines.

The Kavli Prize in Neuroscience
is shared between Eve Marder, Brandeis University, USA, Michael Merzenich, University of California San Francisco, USA, and Carla Shatz, Stanford University, USA. They receive the prize “for the discovery of mechanisms that allow experience and neural activity to remodel brain function”.

Until the 1970s, neuroscientists largely believed that by the time we reach adulthood the architecture of the brain is hard-wired and relatively inflexible. The ability of nerves to grow and form abundant new connections was thought mainly to occur during infancy and childhood. This view supported the notion that it is easier for children to learn new skills such as a language or musical instrument than it is for adults.

Over the past 40 years, however, the three Kavli neuroscience prize-winners have challenged these assumptions and provided a convincing view of a far more flexible adult brain than previously thought possible – one that is ‘plastic’, or capable of remodelling. Working in different model systems, each researcher has focused on how experience can alter both the architecture and functioning of nerve circuits throughout life, given the right stimulus and context. They have provided a physical and biochemical understanding of the idea of ‘use it, or lose it’.

This new picture of a more adaptable brain offers hope for developing new ways to treat neurological conditions that were once considered untreatable.

About the Kavli Prizes

The Kavli Prize is a partnership between the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, The Kavli Foundation (USA) and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. The Kavli Prizes were initiated by and named after Fred Kavli (1927-2013), founder of The Kavli Foundation, which is dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of humanity, promoting public understanding of scientific research, and supporting scientists and their work.

Kavli Prize recipients are chosen biennially by three prize committees comprised of distinguished international scientists recommended by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the French Academy of Sciences, the Max Planck Society, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society.

After the prize committees have selected the award recipients, their recommendations are confirmed by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

The 2016 Kavli Prizes will be awarded in Oslo, Norway, on 6 September. His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon will present the prizes to the laureates. This year’s ceremony will be hosted by Alan Alda and Lena Kristin Ellingsen. Prime Minister Erna Solberg will host a banquet at Oslo City Hall in honour of the laureates.

This year's ceremony will be hosted by Alan Alda and Lena Ellingsen
This year’s ceremony will be hosted by Alan Alda and Lena Ellingsen

Masters of tonight’s ceremony will be Alan Alda and Lena Ellingsen.

Alan Alda is an American actor, director, writer and seven-time Emmy Award winner. His long time interest in science and promoting a greater public understanding of science led him to host the award-winning PBS series, “Scientific American Frontiers,” on which he interviewed hundreds of scientists from around the world. He is a Visiting Professor at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, and is on the Board of the World Science Festival.

Lena Ellingsen
Lena Ellingsen

Lena Ellingsen is a Norwegian actress. In 2009 she received a Gullruten for Best Actress in a Lead Role for her work on the TV series “Himmelblå,” and in 2015 she received a Hedda Award for her supporting role in the musical “Dido + Aeneas.” She is mainly known for her lead role in the Norwegian TV series “Mammon,” but is also a highly acclaimed theater actress who is engaged at The National Theater where she has performed in multiple plays over the years.

The Kavli Prize to Nine Pioneering Scientists, source: The Kavli Price