Kavli Prizes have been awarded to nine researchers for advances in scientific research. The award is presented to investigators who conduct pioneering research in the fields of astrophysics, neuroscience and nanoscience.
The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the Kavli Foundation and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research sponsor the annual recognitions, which include a cash award of U.S. $1 million to be split among the winners in each category.
Alan Guth from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Andrei Linde of Stanford University, and Alexei Starobinsky, from the Russian Academy of Sciences, shared the prize in astrophysics. Their work in cosmic inflation, proven just months ago, was recognized as the greatest advance in that field for the last year.
Cosmic inflation suggests the early universe expanded many times faster than the speed of light for a small fraction of a second after the Big Bang. This event would have dramatic consequences for the large-scale structure of the cosmos we see around us today.
The academy awarded its top prize in neuroscience to Marcus Raichle of Washington University in St. Louis, Brenda Milner from McGill University in Canada, and John O'Keefe, from University College in London.
These researchers studied functioning of memory in human brains. They found specialized areas in the organ, by nerve cells designed for very specific purposes.
"[M]emory is essential for humans, from the recognition of where we are, through learning new skills, to being able to recall events. In humans, memory can be said to define who we are, and we know that loss of memory can have devastating effects on an individual's personality. Knowing how memory function should work in healthy people could open the door to understanding what has changed in patients with dementia and memory loss," the Academy wrote in a press release announcing the winners.
The greatest advance in nanoscience was deemed to be work performed in nano-optics. This research was carried out by John Pendry from Imperial College in London, Thomas Ebbesen, of the Université de Strasbourg in France, and Stefan Hell from Germany's Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry.
Their prize was given "for transformative contributions to the field of nano-optics that have broken long-held beliefs about the limitations of the resolution limits of optical microscopy and imaging," the academy stated.
It was once believed that light could not interact with nanostructures smaller than its wavelength. That team showed a mechanism by which light can interact with such objects.
An international group of scientists nominates candidates, who are then confirmed by the academy. Announcement of the awards was made by Nils Stenseth, president of the academy, to mark the opening of the World Science Festival in New York.
The awards were started by Fred Kavli, a Norwegian-born inventor and philanthropist who spent the last 10 years of his life handing out money to establish Kavli research institutes at universities worldwide. He hoped the prizes, which are awarded every two years, would someday rival Nobel Prizes and advance science for the benefit of humanity, promote public understanding of scientific research, and support scientists and their work.