2016 Kavli Prize: Nine scientists honored for groundbreaking work

This year nine scientists have received the Kavli Prize for their revolutionary work on topics, including gravitational waves, brain plasticity and atomic force microscopy.

The Kavli Prize is awarded every couple of years in Norway. It honors the researchers who have done any revolutionary work making vital contributions to various fields ranging from astrophysics to nanoscience and neuroscience. Winners share a $1-million cash prize in each of the three categories.

In the field of astrophysics, MIT’s Rainer Weiss and Caltech’s Kip Thorne and Ronald Drever have got awarded for their ground-breaking work on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO. Following ten years of search, in September, LIGO finally found the first direct proof of these elusive ripples in the cosmos’ fabric.

While announcing the prize on Thursday, Mats Carlsson of the Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics in Norway, chair of the astrophysics award committee, said, “This discovery has in single stroke and for first time, validated Einstein’s theory of general relatively for very strong fields. It has established nature of gravitational waves, demonstrated existence of black holes with masses 30 times that of our sun, opening new window on universe”.

Thorne and Weiss watched the award ceremony through video feed at the New York City’s World Science Festival, joined over a dining table and received a standing ovation from the assembled scientists. They have won the prize a few days after the trio received the Shaw Prize in Astronomy for their LIGO work.

During a panel discussion after the announcement, MIT physicist Nergis Mavalvala told the audience in New York that the credit goes to LIGO that the Universe can really be seen with a tool that didn’t exist earlier.

Mavalvala added that she wasn’t even aware about what gravitational waves were back in 1991 when she came across Weiss, who later become her doctoral advisor.

A report published in LA Times revealed, “The Kavli Prize, whose laureates are awarded every two years in Norway, recognizes researchers who have made crucial contributions to the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience. In each of the three categories, winners share a $1-million cash prize.”

MIT’s Rainer Weiss and Caltech’s Kip Thorne and Ronald Drever took home the astrophysics prize for their pioneering work on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO. After a decades-long search, LIGO in September finally detected the first direct evidence of these elusive ripples in the fabric of the cosmos.

“This discovery has in a single stroke and for the first time, validated Einstein’s theory of general relatively for very strong fields,” said Mats Carlsson of the Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics in Norway, chair of the astrophysics award committee, in announcing the prize Thursday. “It has 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 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,” according to a news report published by Eurek Alert.

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. Today’s announcement was made by Ole M. Sejersted, President of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, and transmitted live to New York as part of a World Science Festival event where France Córdova, Director of the National Science Foundation, delivered the keynote address.

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.

According to a story published on the topic by Swissinfo, “Gerd Binnig of the IBM Zurich Research Laboratory and the University of Basel’s Christoph Gerber, as well as their colleague Calvin Quate of Stanford University, were awarded $1 million (CHF990,000) in total for their work on atomic force microscopy. That technology allows scientists to observe how individual atoms are arranged on a surface and to manipulate them.”

It is the first time Swiss scientists have been honoured with the Kavli prize, which has been given every two years since 2008 by the The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, The Kavli Foundation and The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. In addition to nanoscience, Kavli prizes are also given for astrophysics and neuroscience.

This year, the astrophysics prize went to scientists from the California and Massachusetts Institutes of Technology for the direct detection of gravitational waves. The neuroscience award was given to researchers from Brandeis University, the University of California at San Francisco and Stanford University “for the discovery of mechanisms that allow experience and neural activity to remodel brain function,” according to the prize committee.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *