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Astrophysicists Nelson, Angel and Wilson win Kavli Prizes

SPIE Newsroom 
3 June 2010

SPIE Member Jerry Nelson of the University of California, Santa Cruz, was among eight scientists who have been recognized with the award of one of the richest prizes in science, the $1 million Kavli Prize. 

The scientists from England, Germany, and the United States are competing to build humongous telescopes, elucidate the machinery by which brain cells signal each other and manipulate individual atoms and molecules into submicroscopic structures.

Nelson is sharing the award for astrophysics with Roger Angel of the University of Arizona and British scientist Raymond Wilson of the European Southern Observatory and formerly of Imperial College London.

Working separately, Nelson and Angel improved the structure of telescopes, making them more powerful and allowing them to provide higher-resolution images.

Wilson, a pioneer in adaptive optics, has helped astronomers gaze further into space by using computers to correct for the distorting effects of gravity, wind and temperature on telescopes.

Both Nelson and Angel are scheduled to present talks at the SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation symposium in San Diego later this month.

Jerry NelsonNelson, the founding director of the Center for Adaptive Optics at UC and a Keck Observatory scientist, has been involved with the design of two Keck telescopes and will be the keynote speaker at an all-conference dinner and presentation on 29 June during the symposium. In his talk, "Four Hundred Years Through the Eye of the Telescope," Nelson will reflect on how telescopes have changed science and society.

Nelson will also present a paper at the symposium on the status of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) Project.

Angel, founder and director of the UA Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, was cited for his development of methods to build larger telescope mirrors, using a spinning furnace and honeycomb structure that make the mirror lightweight and rigid at the same time. He will present a paper at the SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation symposium on a design for a 4-meter, wide-field coronagraph space telescope (WFCT). The WFCT is designed for general astrophysics and exoplanet observations and as a flagship-class mission to succeed the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes.

Neuroscience and nanoscience prizes

The Kavli neuroscience prize will also be shared three ways, by Thomas Südhof of the Stanford School of Medicine, Richard H. Scheller of Genentech, and James E. Rothman of Yale University for work on the molecular basis of nervous transmission.

The Kavli prize for nanoscience will go to Donald M. Eigler of IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, CA, and Nadrian C. Seeman of New York University for developing the ability to indulge in architecture and engineering on the smallest scales imaginable. Eigler reserved his place in the history of science in 1989 when he became the first person ever to pick up an individual atom and move it precisely to another location. He then went on to make a series of breakthroughs that have helped us to understand some of the most basic units of matter.

The Kavli Prizes are a partnership of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the Kavli Foundation, and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.