The Kavli Prizes recognize scientists for pioneering advances in our understanding of existence at its biggest, smallest, and most complex scales. Presented every two years in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience, each of three international prizes consists of $1 million (U.S.). Laureates are chosen by committees whose members are recommended by six of the world’s most renowned science societies and academies. Winners receive gold medals in Oslo, Norway, in a ceremony presided over by His Majesty King Harald. A banquet takes place at Oslo’s famed City Hall, the venue of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.
First awarded in 2008, the Kavli Prizes have so far honored 40 scientists from eight countries − the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland, In 2016, Ronald W.P. Drever (U.S), Kip S. Thorne (U.S.) and Rainer Weiss (U.S.) shared the Kavli Prize in Astrophysics "for the direct detection of gravitational waves"; Gerd Binnig (Switzerland), Christoph Gerber (Switzerland) and Calvin Quate (U.S.) shared the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience "for the invention and realization of atomic force microscopy, a breakthrough in measurement technology and nanosculpting that continues to have a transformative impact on nanoscience and technology”; and Eve Marder (U.S.), Michael Merzenich (U.S.) and Carla Shatz (U.S.) shared the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience “for the discovery of mechanisms that allow experience and neural activity to remodel brain function.”
Past awards have honored scientists for research ranging from the discovery of the Kuiper Belt to creating unprecedented methods for controlling matter on the nanoscale, to deepening our understanding of the basic neuronal mechanisms underlying perception and decision. In 2012, Mildred S. Dresselhaus (U.S.) became the first sole winner of a Kavli Prize, receiving it for her pioneering contributions to nanoscience.
The Kavli Prize is a partnership between The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, The Kavli Foundation (U.S.), and The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. It is named after Fred Kavli, a Norwegian-born U.S. philanthropist and founder of The Kavli Foundation.
The 2016 Kavli Prize laureates at the audience with HRH Crown Prince Haakon (from left to right): Rainer Weiss, Kip S. Thorne, Carla J. Shatz, Eve Marder, HRH Crown Prince Haakon, Michael M. Merzenich, Gerd Binnig, Calvin Quate and Christoph Gerber. Photo: Thomas Brun, NTB Scanpix
The Kavli Prizes recognize seminal scientific achievements in Astrophysics, Nanoscience and Neuroscience.
The Kavli Prize in Astrophysics is awarded for outstanding achievement in advancing our knowledge and understanding of the origin, evolution, and properties of the universe, including the fields of cosmology, astrophysics, astronomy, planetary science, solar physics, space science, astrobiology, astronomical and astrophysical instrumentation, and particle astrophysics.
The Kavli Prize in Nanoscience is awarded for outstanding achievement in the science and application of the unique physical, chemical, and biological properties of atomic, molecular, macromolecular, and cellular structures and systems that are manifest in the nanometer scale, including molecular self-assembly, nanomaterials, nanoscale instrumentation, nanobiotechnology, macromolecular synthesis, molecular mechanics, and related topics.
The Kavli Prize in Neuroscience is awarded for outstanding achievement in advancing our knowledge and understanding of the brain and nervous system, including molecular neuroscience, cellular neuroscience, systems neuroscience, neurogenetics, developmental neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, computational neuroscience, and related facets of the brain and nervous system.
Selection of the Kavli Laureates
The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters appoints the three prize committees after receiving recommendations from the following international academies and equivalent scientific organizations:
- The Chinese Academy of Science
- The French Academy of Sciences
- The Max Planck Society (Germany)
- The National Academy of Sciences (US)
- The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters
- The Royal Society (UK)
The prize committees review the nominated candidates and submit their recommendations to the board of The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. The President of the Academy announces the prize winners.
Establishment of the Kavli Prizes
The Kavli Prize was established to:
- Recognize outstanding scientific research
- Honor highly creative scientists
- Promote public understanding of scientists and their work
- Foster international cooperation among scientists
The agreement to establish the Kavli Prize was signed in 2005 by the founder of The Kavli Foundation, Fred Kavli; Kristin Clemet, Norwegian Minister of Education and Research; and Jan Fridthjof Bernt, President of The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. The Kavli Prize was awarded for the first time in 2008.