Seven scientists from three scientific disciplines today were awarded the first biennial Kavli Prizes. Each of the three award categories come with $1-million cash prize for researchers working in astrophysics, neuroscience and nanoscience. The awards were presented at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, that was simulcast at Columbia University, site of the kickoff celebration for the World Science Festival. Two Columbia University scientists were among the seven winners: chemist Louis E. Brus, who split the nanoscience prize, and Thomas Jessell, a molecular biophysicist, who shared the $1 million award in neuroscience with two other winners. All in all, the laureates hailed from three continents and represented six institutions. Brus shared the $1-million nanoscience award with Sumio Iijima, a physicist at Meijo University in Nagoya Japan. Brus won for his discovery of fluorescent, colloidal semiconductor nanocrystals, or quantum dots, whereas Iijima got his prize for his work with tiny carbon nanotubes, which are stronger than steel. The small structures can be used in everything from better drug delivery mechanisms to visual displays and solar cells. Jessell shared the neuroscience prize with Pasko Rakic, a neurobiologist at Yale University, and Sten Grillner, a neurophysiologist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Rakic determined how embryonic neurons assemble themselves into the dense outer layer of the brain, the cerebral cortex—essentially the organ's central processing unit. Jessell's work helped define the primary mechanisms that form the spinal cord. Finally, Grillner helped characterize the sensory motor loops in the spinal column that control everything from knee-jerk reactions to basic locomotion—cellular mechanisms conserved all the way from eels to humans. The astrophysics award was split between Maarten Schmidt, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology, and Donald Lynden-Bell, an astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge. Both contributed to the description of quasars—bright, enigmatic objects seen among the stars: Schmidt analyzed the visible light spectra of a quasar to determine that despite their intense brightness, they were located billions of light-years away. Lynden-Bell extended our understanding by characterizing quasars as galaxies with black holes at their centers; the black holes suck in all the matter around them and the flurry of matter generates the energy that is seen as their brightness. The biennial Kavli Awards are co-sponsored by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, along with The Kavli Foundation, a promoter and supporter of scientific research, based in Oxnard, Calif., and established in 2000 by Fred Kavli, a physicist–turned-entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist. His fame and fortune came from his work on electronic sensors, which his company, Kavlico, sold to aeronautics and automotive manufacturers. Kavli told actor and science cheerleader Alan Alda that his decision to create the prizes was inspired by his ponderings of nature as a child in his native Norway. The awards honor those who had a similar inquisitiveness and made strides to advance scientific knowledge of the world. -- Edited by nikhil swaminathan at 05/28/2008 3:25 PM