2012 Kavli Prize Laureate Interviews


On September 3, 2012 at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, geneticist, author and broadcaster, Adam Rutherford interviewed the 2012 Kavli Prize Laureates.

David JewittJane LuuMichael Brown

Left to right: 2012 Kavli Prize Laureates David Jewitt, Jane Luu and Michael Brown

2012 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics

"for discovering and characterizing the Kuiper Belt and its largest members, work that led to a major advance in the understanding of the history of our planetary system." 

In 1992, the Solar System became a much larger and more interesting place. That’s when astronomers David Jewitt and Jane Luu discovered the first of many dozens of objects at the frigid and dark edge of the solar system – celestial bodies that collectively would be known as the Kuiper Belt. Later, Michael Brown made startling discoveries of increasingly larger Kuiper Belt Objects, including one he called Eris that is more massive than Pluto, and another beyond the Kuiper Belt he called Sedna. These and other discoveries forced astronomers and the larger public to re-think not only the overall architecture of the solar system but the very status of Pluto so that now the solar system has only eight planets.

Mildred with an Scanning Electron Microscope
2012 Kavli Prize Laureate Mildred Dresselhaus

2012 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience

“for her pioneering contributions to the study of phonons,
electron-phonon interactions, and thermal transport in nanostructures.”

Mildred Dresselhaus, the first sole recipient of a Kavli Prize, has had a long and illustrious career in physics. Dubbed "The Queen of Carbon" by her peers, she was instrumental in unlocking the secrets of carbon's electronic structure and the mysterious forms it takes on in nature. Among her accomplishments, Mildred Dresselhaus contributed to the discovery of fullerenes – very large molecules of carbon that resemble Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes. She also predicted the existence of carbon nanotubes – single-atom-thick cylinders of carbon that could be used in everything from stronger materials, ultrastrong cables, and hydrogen storage to advanced electronics, solar cells, and batteries. And she remains a leader in the science of nanoscale carbon structures, which are thousands of times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, exploring their electronic behavior and how they convert heat into electricity.

Cori BargmannWinfried DenkAnn Graybiel

Left to right: 2012 Kavli Prize Laureates Cori Bargmann, Winfried Denk and Ann Graybiel

2012 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience

“for elucidating basic neuronal mechanisms underlying perception and decision"

Understanding how the brain receives information from the environment and processes it to make decisions is a major challenge in neuroscience. Cori Bargmann, Winfried Denk and Ann Graybiel have addressed this question in different organisms. Bargmann used nematode worms to gain insight into the molecular controls for animal behaviour; Denk developed techniques that allowed him to answer major questions about how information is transmitted from the eye to the brain; Graybiel identified and traced neural loops going from the outer layer of the brain to a region called the striatum and back again, and revealed that these form the basis for linking sensory cues to actions involved in habitual behaviours.