Like the Nobel, Only Norwegian

Kavli is the name of a low-fat, whole-grain, Norwegian cracker – a rather tasteless (to my palate) vehicle for cheese or zesty vegetable spreads. But no scientist is likely to turn up his or her nose at accepting a Kavli award. It’ll be anything but cheesy.

RESEARCH PHILANTHROPIST This man’s largesse includes endowed professorships, academic-research centers, and now million-dollar prizes for scientific excellence. Kavli Foundation

Two weeks from now, an astrophysicist, neuroscientist, and nanoscience researcher will each be named to receive $1 million, a scroll, and a gold medal. These inaugural Kavli Prize  winners will be announced at opening ceremonies of the World Science Festival, in New York City. Because the awards are Norwegian, those attending the WSF will actually learn about the winners through a live simulcast of announcements made in Oslo.

The biennial awards are being named for Fred Kavli , a Norwegian-born — but now California-based — physicist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. Nearly a half-century ago, the guy founded Kavlico , a California-based company that makes specialty sensors for aeronautics, automotive and industrial applications.

Kavli sold his company eight years ago to focus on running his Kavli Foundation , based in Oxnard, Calif. Its stated mission: to advance science for the benefit of humanity and to promote “increased public understanding and support for scientists and their work.”

The new astrophysics award will reward achievements exploring the greatest dimensions of space and time, the nanoscience award focuses on work on the tiniest frontiers, and the neuroscience award will salute accomplishments that aid in understanding the human mind.

The NorwegianAcademy of Science and Letters signed an agreement with the Kavli Foundation and Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research to jointly sponsor and present the new prizes. The Academy then recruited a committee of distinguished researchers in each award field to review nominees and recommend winners, which the NorwegianAcademy then accepts.

In addition to creating the new prizes, Kavli’s foundation has endowed six professorships (five at California universities, the last at Columbia in New York). It’s also issued grants to set up Kavli institutes at 14 universities — including Caltech, Cambridge, the University of Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, MIT, Peking University, Stanford and Yale — in addition to the Chinese Academy of Sciences.  

By the way, I learned this morning that the foundation also supports journalism fellowships. A few minutes ago I found out Science News’ will benefit from one. Tina Hesman Saey just shot me an email, which had been sent to her shortly after lunchtime, informing our molecular-biology writer that she has been awarded a Kavli Fellowship to attend a four-day workshop at MIT. This program is being described as a frontiers-of-brain-science boot camp for science journalists. Congratulations, Tina!

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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