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2024 Kavli Prize Awarded In Astrophysics, Nanoscience & Neuroscience

The winners of the 2024 Kavli Prize were announced on June 12. Eight winners were awarded for their contributions to astrophysics, neuroscience, and nanoscience.

Who was Fred Kavli

Fred Kavli was born in Erejsford, Norway. Kavli moved to California in 1956 after getting an engineering degree. In the US, he began working for a company which built high-tech sensors for missiles, becoming its chief engineer within a year. In 1958, he started his own enterprise, founding Kavlico. Today, the company is a leading manufacturer of pressure sensors and related systems, which are used in all kinds of industries, from aviation to home appliances. Kavlico’s pressure transducers (devices which convert pressure into an electric signal) are known for their high accuracy, stability, and reliability. In 2000, Kavli sold his company for $ 340 million, and established the Kavli Foundation, with the aim to support wide-ranging basic research to improve the quality of life for people worldwide. The foundation runs 20 institutes which specialise in astrophysics, neuroscience, nanoscience, and theoretical physics. The Kavli Prize is awarded in honour of Norwegian-American businessman and philanthropist Fred Kavli.

Origin and development of this prize

The inaugural prize was announced in 2008, and awarded to seven scientists. Till date, 73 scientists from 19 countries have been honoured with the biennial award. Ten of them have gone on to win the Nobel Prize. The Kavli Prizes are awarded in three areas: astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience- the largest, the smallest, and the most complex. All eight scientists awarded the Kavli Prize this year are professors at leading American universities. All eight scientists awarded the Kavli Prize this year are professors at leading American universities.


This year’s prize for astrophysics has been awarded to David Charbonneau of Harvard University, and Sara Seager, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The duo have been recognised for discoveries of exoplanets, and the characterisation of their atmosphere. The citation states that the contributions of Charbonneau and Seager included pioneering “methods for the detection of atomic species in planetary atmospheres and the measurement of their thermal infrared emission, thus setting the stage for finding the molecular fingerprints of atmospheres around both giant and rocky planets”.


Robert Langer of MIT, Armand Paul Alivisatos of the University of Chicago, and Chad Mirkin of Northwestern University were given the prize for nanoscience. Langer was recognised for his breakthrough idea of nano-engineering a material for the controlled release of therapeutic bio-molecules, which could help the development of controlled drug delivery systems to treat diseases like aggressive brain cancer, prostate cancer and schizophrenia. Alivisatos devised semiconductor crystals or “quantum dots” which could be used as multi-colour fluorescent probes in bio-imaging. Today these are used for diagnostic imaging of patients, and helping research in fundamental medicine and biology. Mirkin introduced the concept of spherical nucleic acid (SNA), a new class of nucleic acids that are densely functionalised and oriented spherically around a nanoparticle core. SNAs have wide-ranging use in areas like intracellular detection, gene regulation and immunotherapy.


The prize in neuroscience has been awarded to Nancy Kanwisher of MIT, Winrich Freiwald of Rockefeller University, and Doris Tsao of the University of California at Berkeley. The trio have been awarded for their collective effort over decades to map the linkage between facial recognition and the brain. While Kinwisher identified the exact brain’s centre for face processing, Tsao and Freiwald took this knowledge forward using functional imaging and recording from individual brain cells to map out the neural architecture of the human brain.

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