Three prizes worth $1 million apiece were awarded Wednesday to seven scientists for their discoveries in neuroscience, astrophysics and the study of vanishingly small structures.
They are the first recipients of the Kavli prizes, which are awarded by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in partnership with the Kavli Foundation and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. The prizes are named after, and funded by, entrepreneur and philanthropist Fred Kavli.
The award for neuroscience was given for research into the development and functioning of nerve circuitry in the brain and spinal cord. It was shared by Dr. Sten Grillner of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden; Thomas Jessell of Columbia University, and Dr. Pasko Rakic of Yale University.
Grillner was honored for studies of how nerve circuits control how animals with backbones move about, Jessell for insights into development of the spinal cord, and Rakic for revealing developmental mechanisms of the brain's cerebral cortex. 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 astrophysics prize was split by Donald Lynden-Bell of Cambridge University and Maarten Schmidt of the California Institute of Technology, 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 other prize was given for nanoscience, which is the study of extremely tiny materials and structures that are smaller than, say, a single bacterium. The prize was shared by Louis Brus of Columbia and Sumio Iijima of Meijo University in Nagoya, Japan.
Brus is a pioneer in the 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. Stronger than steel but far lighter, carbon nanotubes are used in such products as baseball bats and car parts and are being studied for other uses.
Kavli, a Norwegian-born physicist, moved to the United States in 1956. He was the CEO of Kavlico Corp. of Moorpark, Calif., which was one of the world's largest suppliers of sensors for aeronautics, automotive and industrial uses when it was sold in 2000. Kavli then founded the California-based Kavli Foundation.