Thursday, May 31, 2018

Science of Star Creation, Neuroscience of Hearing and Tool to Edit DNA Win Kavli Prizes

7 scientists from 5 countries share USD $1 million prizes in fields of astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience

May 31, 2018 (OSLO) — The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters today announced the winners of the 2018 Kavli Prizes. Given in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience, this year’s prizes honor scientists who studied molecules in space and illuminated the life cycle of stars and planets, developed a tool to precisely edit DNA, and unlocked the neuroscience underlying human hearing.

This year’s winners are:

“These Laureates represent truly pioneering science, the kind of science which will benefit humanity in a profound way. They will inspire both current and future generations to continue searching for answers to some of the most difficult questions of our time. Through their hard work, dedication and innovation, they have strengthened our understanding of existence,” says Ole M. Sejersted, President of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. 

The Prize consists of a gold medal and a cash prize of USD $1 million for each field. The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters selected the Laureates, based on nominations by committees whose members are recommended by six of the world’s most renowned science societies and academies. The announcement of the 2018 Laureates was made in Oslo and streamed live to the World Science Festival in New York City.

The 2018 Kavli Laureates

Astrophysics: Shedding light on the Origins of Stars, Planets and Life

The Kavli Prize in Astrophysics is given to Ewine van Dishoeck for her seminal work on revealing the chemical and physical processes in interstellar clouds, where stars and planets form. Her work has contributed to a breakthrough of astrochemistry, demonstrating how molecules form and evolve during the transformation of a cloud into stellar systems like our own.  

Through observational studies using telescopes on Earth and in space, van Dishoeck unveiled the “water trail,” measuring water vapor from dense clouds to young stars. This helps us understand the formation mechanisms of molecules crucial for life as we know it. She also discovered important structures within the rings of dust and gas surrounding young stars, the birthplace of planets and comets. 

Van Dishoeck is professor of molecular astrophysics at the University of Leiden and has played a leading role in advancing the field of astrophysics. This includes serving on the board of the internationally-supported Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile—a collection of 66 dishes that can be connected to function as one telescope with a diameter of 10 km (6.2 miles). With this exceptional instrument, van Dishoeck and colleagues have studied the formation of solar-type stellar systems within our galaxy. 

“Professor Van Dishoeck’s research on the chemistry of the universe has transformed virtually every aspect of the subject. She has advanced a subject that was once regarded as a small activity on the fringes of mainstream astrophysics, and brought it to the forefront of astronomy as a whole,” says Robert Kennicutt, member of the astrophysics prize committee.

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