Honouring the Kavli Prizes winners

Nine pioneer­ing scientists from Germany, Switzerland, United Kingdom and USA have been named this year’s recipients of the Kavli Prizes – prizes that recognize scientists for their seminal advances in astro­physics, nanoscience and neuroscience.

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. 

– I want to congratulate the winners with well-deserved prizes. The society can thank pioneering scientist for knowledge and contributions that we later take for granted. The Kavli prizes recognizes the pioneering work done by these excellent scientist, says Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, minister of Education and Research. 

The Kavli Prize in Astrophysics goes to Ronald W.P. Drever, Kip S. Thorne and Rainer Weiss. Gerd Binnig, Christoph Gerber and Calvin Quate share the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience. The Kavli Prize in Neuroscience goes to Eve Marder, Michael Merzenich and Carla Shatz.

The Kavli Prize is awarded by The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and consists of a cash award of 1 million US dollars in each field. The laureates receive in addition a gold medal and a scroll.
The Kavli Prize in Astrophysics The prize is shared between Ronald W.P. Drever and Kip S. Thorne, both from California Institute of Technology, USA, and Rainer Weiss, 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 theory of general 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 The prize 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 The prize 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 making their selection for award recipients, the recommenda­tions of these prize committees are confirmed by The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

The 2016 Kavli Prizes will be awarded in Oslo, Norway, on the 6th of 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. Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, Minister of Education and Research, will host a banquet at Oslo City Hall in honour of the laureates.

The ceremony is part of Kavli Prize Week - a week of special programs that celebrate extraordinary achievements in science.

For more detailed information on each of the prizes, the 2016 laure­ates and their work, the Kavli Prize and all the events see www.kavliprize.org.