Winners announced for the Kavli Prize 2024


Thursday, 27 June, 2024

Winners announced for the Kavli Prize 2024

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters has announced the 2024 Kavli Prize laureates in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience, honouring eight scientists from three countries for their research that has broadened our understanding of the big, the small and the complex. Three US$1 million prizes are awarded every second year in each of the three fields.

“The Kavli Prize 2024 honours outstanding researchers doing fundamental science that moves the world forward,” said Lise Øvreås, President at The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. “They are exploring planets outside our solar system; they have broadened the scientific field of nanoscience towards biomedicine; and they are adding to our understanding of the neurological basis of face recognition.”

Astrophysics

The 2024 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics honours Sara Seager and David Charbonneau for discoveries of exoplanets and the characterisation of their atmospheres. They pioneered methods for the detection of atomic species in planetary atmospheres and the measurement of their thermal infrared emission, setting the stage for finding the molecular fingerprints of atmospheres around both giant and rocky planets. Their contributions have been key to the enormous progress seen in the last 20 years in the exploration of myriad exoplanets.

“Humans have always looked towards the stars for discoveries,” said Viggo Hansteen, Chair of the Kavli Prize in Astrophysics Committee. “The pivotal research conducted by Seager and Charbonneau has been an important first step towards finding new planets and strong evidence of life elsewhere in the universe.”

Nanoscience

The 2024 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience honours Robert S Langer, Paul Alivisatos and Chad A Mirkin, who revolutionised the field of nanomedicine by demonstrating how engineering nanoscale materials can advance biomedical research. Langer was the first to develop nano-engineered materials that enabled the controlled release of drug molecules; Alivisatos demonstrated that semiconductor nanocrystals, or quantum dots, can be used as multicolour probes in bioimaging; and Mirkin engineered spherical nucleic acids (SNA) for use in biodiagnostics. Together, their discoveries contributed foundationally to the development of therapeutics, vaccines, bioimaging and diagnostics.

“Langer, Alivisatos and Mirkin have broadened the scientific field of nanoscience, building from fundamental research,” said Bodil Holst, Chair of the Nanoscience Committee. “By scientific curiosity they have become inventors for the future of nanoscience and biomedicine.”

Neuroscience

Finally, the 2024 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience honours Nancy Kanwisher, Doris Tsao and Winrich Freiwald for the discovery of a specialised system within the brain to recognise faces. Kanwisher was the first to prove that a specific area in the human neocortex (the fusiform face area) is dedicated to recognising faces; Tsao identified how so-called ‘face patches’ work together to identify a face; and Freiwald found that a separate brain region, the temporal pole, accelerates our recognition of familiar faces. Their discoveries have provided basic principles of neural organisation and enabled further research on how the processing of visual information is integrated with other cognitive functions.

“Kanwisher, Freiwald and Tsao together discovered a localised and specialised neocortical system for face recognition,” said Kristine Walhovd, Chair of the Neuroscience Committee. “Their outstanding research will ultimately further our understanding of recognition not only of faces, but objects and scenes.”

Image credit: iStock.com/DNY59

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