May 29, 2008

Scientists Awarded First Ever Kavil Prizes

Three scientists in fields of neuroscience, astrophysics and nanoscience became the first recipients of the Kavil prizes on Wednesday.

Named after philanthropist Fred Kavil, the $1 million prizes are awarded by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in partnership with the Kavil Foundation and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.

The three first recipients for the award for neuroscience were Dr. Sten Grillner of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden; Thomas Jessell of Columbia University, and Dr. Pasko Rakic of Yale University.

Grillner's studies on the control of nerve circuits in animals with backbones earned his share of the award.

Jessell discovered molecular principles governing the specification and patterning of different neuron types and the development of their synaptic interconnection into sensorimotor circuits.

Rakic was awarded for his studies of the developing cerebral cortex, including the discovery of how radial glia guide the neuronal migration that establishes cortical layers and for the radial unit hypothesis and its implications for cortical connectivity and evolution.

Ultimately, their work may lead to better ways to repair diseased or damaged circuits in the brain and spinal cord, the Norwegian academy said.

The 2008 Kavil Prize in Astrophysics was awarded jointly to Donald Lynden-Bell of Cambridge University, UK, and Maarten Schmidt of the California Institute of Technology won the award for astrophysics for their work in understanding the nature of distant objects called quasars. Schmidt revealed the first known quasar in 1963 and Lynden-Bell in 1969 shed light on what makes them so luminous.

The prize for nanoscience was awarded Louis Brus of Columbia and Sumio Iijima of Meijo University in Nagoya, Japan.

Brus was recognized for his study of particles called "quantum dots," which scientists are now investigating for such uses as early identification of cancer and improved computer displays.

Iijima is considered the discoverer of needle-like carbon nanotubes for research he did in 1991. Carbon nanotubes are used in such products as baseball bats and car parts and are being studied for other uses.

Dr. Kavil funded the awards. He received his education in physics at the Norwegian Institute of Technology. He founded the founded the California-based Kavli Foundation in 2000.