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06/05/2011 - President Obama Meets U.S. Laureates of 2010 Kavli Prizes

June 6, 2011

At the White House today, President Barack Obama met in the Oval Office with the seven U.S. recipients of the 2010 Kavli Prizes to recognize and honor their seminal contributions to the three fields for which the Prizes are awarded -- astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience.

Joined by the President’s science advisor, John P. Holdren, President Obama greeted Kavli Prize Laureates Roger Angel (University of Arizona), Jerry E. Nelson (University of California, Santa Cruz), Donald M. Eigler (IBM Almaden Research Center), James E. Rothman (Yale University), Richard H. Scheller (Genentech), Nadrian C. Seeman (New York University), and Thomas C. Südhof (Stanford University). Accompanying the laureates were Fred Kavli, Founder and Chairman of The Kavli Foundation; Robert W. Conn, President of The Kavli Foundation; and Wegger Chr. Strommen, the Norwegian Ambassador to the United States.

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West Wing Week, the weekly video summary of President Obama’s week features video from the 2010 Kavli Prize U.S. Laureate visit. (Starts at 2:50, Video Courtesy of Whitehouse.gov)

The Kavli Prizes are a partnership between The Kavli Foundation (U.S.), the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.

"We are extremely grateful to the President for the honor of this visit, and for his strong and heartfelt commitment to scientific research and discovery,” said Fred Kavli. “It reflects the nation’s deep support for innovative research that scientists across the country rely upon, including the foundational research discoveries of the 2010 Kavli Laureates."

The Kavli Laureates received their awards for research that made it possible to look more deeply and clearly into the universe, to control matter on the nano scale, and to understand how the brain’s nerve cells communicate.

The 2010 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics was awarded to Roger Angel, Jerry E. Nelson and Raymond N. Wilson (European Southern Observatory, Germany) for their contributions to the development of giant telescopes. The size of a telescope’s primary mirror determines the light-gathering power and ability to detect and resolve the faintest and most distant objects in the universe. Nelson, Wilson and Angel pioneered the development of a new generation of large optical telescopes with innovations such as precise reflecting mirrors and more sophisticated shaping that has led to an extraordinary range of fundamental discoveries about the cosmos.

The 2010 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience was awarded to Donald M. Eigler and Nadrian C. Seeman for their development of unprecedented methods to control matter on the nanoscale. Eigler demonstrated it was possible to pick up and precisely place individual atoms at will, creating a whole field of quantum engineering.  Seeman conceived the idea of using DNA as a building material for nanoscale engineering. Inventing DNA nanotechnology, he pioneered the use of DNA as a non-biological programmable material for a countless number of devices that self-assemble, walk, compute and catalyze. These discoveries promise breakthroughs in future applications in fields ranging from electronics to biology.

President Barack Obama talks with U.S. recipients of the 2010 Kavli Prize in the Oval Office, June 6, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama talks with U.S. recipients of the 2010 Kavli Prize in the Oval Office, June 6, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The 2010 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience was awarded to James E. Rothman, Richard H. Scheller and Thomas C. Südhof for discovering the molecular basis of neurotransmitter release. Understanding how nerve cells communicate with one another has been a central problem in modern brain science. Over the past thirty years, Scheller, Südhof and Rothman have used a creative multidisciplinary set of approaches to elucidate the key molecular events of neurotransmitter release. Moreover, their work has demonstrated that neurotransmitter release represents a special case of the fundamental cell biological process of membrane trafficking.

The Kavli Prize consists of a scroll, a gold medal and a cash award of one million dollars in each field, with the prizes awarded biennially. Kavli Prize recipients are chosen by committees comprised of distinguished international scientists recommended by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the French Academy of Sciences, the Max Planck Society, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and The Royal Society. After making their selection for Prize recipients, the recommendations are confirmed by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. The formation of Prize Committees and the selection of prize recipients is independent of The Kavli Foundation – a nonprofit U.S.-based foundation dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of humanity, promoting public understanding of scientific research, and supporting scientists and their work.

The 2010 Kavli Prize Laureates were announced last year and received their awards in a ceremony held in Oslo, Norway. The call for nominations for the 2012 Kavli Prizes occurs this fall.

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