Shaw Laureates 2008

Posted on June 10, 2008  Comments (0)

Image of the Shaw Prize Medal

The Shaw Prize awards $1 million in each of 3 areas: Astronomy; Life Science and Medicine; and Mathematical Sciences. The award was established in 2002 by Run Run Shaw who was born in China and made his money in the movie industry. The prize is administered in Hong Kong and awards those “who have achieved significant breakthrough in academic and scientific research or application and whose work has resulted in a positive and profound impact on mankind.” The 2008 Shaw Laureates have been selected.

Astronomy
Professor Reinhard Genzel, Managing Director of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, in recognition of his outstanding contribution in demonstrating that the Milky Way contains a supermassive black hole at its centre.

In 1969, Donald Lynden-Bell and Martin Rees suggested that the Milky Way might contain a supermassive black hole. But evidence for such an object was lacking at the time because the centre of the Milky Way is obscured by interstellar dust, and was detected only as a relatively faint radio source. Reinhard Genzel obtained compelling evidence for this conjecture by developing state-of-the-art astronomical instruments and carrying out a persistent programme of observing our Galactic Centre for many years, which ultimately led to the discovery of a black hole with a mass a few million times that of the Sun, in the centre of the Milky Way.

Supermassive black holes are now recognized to account for the luminous sources seen at the nuclei of galaxies and to play a fundamental role in the formation of galaxies.

Mathematical Sciences
Vladimir Arnold, together with Andrei Kolmogorov and Jurgen Moser, made fundamental contributions to the study of stability in dynamical systems, exemplified by the motion of the planets round the sun. This work laid the foundation for all subsequent developments right up to the present time.

Arnold also produced extremely fruitful ideas, relating classical mechanics to questions of topology. This includes the famous Arnold Conjecture which was only recently solved.

In classical hydrodynamics the basic equations of an ideal fluid were derived by Euler in 1757 and major steps towards understanding them were taken by Helmholtz in 1858, and Kelvin in 1869. The next significant breakthrough was made by Arnold a century later and this has provided the basis for more recent work.

Ludwig Faddeev has made many important contributions to quantum physics. Together with Boris Popov he showed the right way to quantize the famous non-Abelian theory which underlies all contemporary work on sub-atomic physics. This led in particular to the work of ′t Hooft and Veltman which was recognized by the Nobel Prize for Physics of 1999.

Faddeev also developed (jointly with Valentin Pavlov) the quantum version of the beautiful theory of integrable systems in two dimensions which has important applications in solid state physics as well as in recent models of string theory.

In another application of the scattering theory of differential operators, Faddeev discovered a surprising link with number theory and the famous Riemann Hypothesis.

Life Science and Medicine
During the development of vertebrates, including humans, the fertilized egg develops into the embryo, and the cells in the embryo then proceed to differentiate to form somatic cells of different tissues and organs. The fertilized egg is considered totipotent, as it can develop into a whole organism, while the cells in the embryo are pluripotent because they are capable of differentiating into somatic cells that make up all the organs. Half a century ago, it was found by John Gurdon that this developmental clock can be reversed, and that differentiated somatic cells in a frog model could regain their pluripotency or totipotency. Attempts were later made to show that mammalian cells – and human cells in particular – could also be reprogrammed back to a pluripotent state, both to advance our understanding of developmental mechanisms and because of the belief that great therapeutic benefits would flow from such knowledge. The breakthroughs came in the last 15 years. The landmark contributions by the scientists that are honoured with the Shaw Prize have thereby ushered in a new era in stem cell research, with huge potential benefits to mankind.

Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell worked together in the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh for many years, using sheep as the model, in order to understand the early physiology of the egg and how laboratory manipulations can improve our knowledge of the development from egg to birth. In 1995, they produced a pair of lambs called Megan and Morag from embryonic cells. They also performed nuclear transfer experiments in which nuclei from embryonic, fetal and adult cells of the sheep were transplanted into fertilized eggs derived from ewes.

One of the live-born lambs, Dolly, was derived from the transplantation of the nucleus of an adult mammary cell. Thus, Dolly was the first example of the reprogramming of the adult cell back to totipotency in a mammal. They further created a sheep called Polly in which they showed that it was possible to incorporate a human gene into the donor’s DNA before cloning, thus indicating that it is possible to use animals to produce human proteins for the benefit of mankind. Since then, the work of Wilmut and Campbell has been duplicated in many other animal species and has provided approaches to produce useful therapeutic products with cloned animals and to improve agricultural practices.

Shinya Yamanaka born 1962 in Osaka, Japan, is currently a Professor at the Institute for Frontier Medical Science, the Kyoto University.

Related: Shaw Laureates 20072007 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine2007 Nobel Prize in Physics

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