May 27, 2020 - Science

Meet the 2020 Kavli Prize winners

Astronomer Andrew Fabian

Astronomer Andrew Fabian, the winner of the 2020 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics. Screenshot: The Kavli Foundation

Seven scientists from five countries received the Kavli Prize on Wednesday for their discoveries in astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience.

Why it matters: They were rewarded for their research on how black holes interact with galaxies, inventions that made electron microscopes even more precise and the discovery of how temperature and pressure are detected by the body and signaled to the brain.

The winners: 2020's Kavli Prize Laureates are:

  • In astrophysics: Andrew Fabian (U.K.)
  • In nanoscience: Harald Rose (Germany), Maximilian Haider (Austria), Knut Urban (Germany) and Ondrej L Krivanek (U.K. and Czech Republic)
  • In neuroscience: David Julius (U.S.) and Ardem Patapoutian (U.S.)

Each field of winners also received a cash reward of $1 million, which is on a par with the Nobel Prize's $1.1 million award. The prize is shared equally among the laureates in a given field.

Details: Astronomer and astrophysicist Andrew Fabian used X-ray astronomy to obtain evidence that supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies drive a flow of hot gas out of galaxies. That process redistributes energy throughout the universe and provides the building blocks for future galaxy formation.

  • "Fabian is one of the most prolific and influential astronomers of our time," said Viggo Hansteen, chair of the Kavli Prize Committee in Astrophysics. "His research, breadth of knowledge and insights into the universe provided the essential physical understanding of how disparate phenomena in this ecosystem are interconnected."

The four scientists awarded the Kavli Prize for nanoscience developed "aberration-corrected lenses" for electron microscopes to better focus beams of electrons, allowing imaging on a subatomic scale.

  • The corrective lenses can be used to create better chemical catalysts, more efficient solar cells in solar panels, and membranes for carbon dioxide capture and storage systems, according to the BBVA Foundation.
  • “Their work is a beautiful example of scientific ingenuity, dedication and persistence. They have enabled humanity to see where we could not see before,” said Bodil Holst, chair of the Kavli Prize Committee in Nanoscience.

Physiologist David Julius and microbiologist Ardem Patapoutian discovered the molecular mechanisms that underpin sensitivities to temperature and pressure. Their work describes how those conditions are detected and encoded into electrical signals the brain can process, providing new insights into human physiology.

  • "The individual discoveries of David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian have given the scientific community the molecular and neural basis for thermosensation and mechanosensation that is revolutionizing our understanding of sensory detection and will have a profound impact on addressing health and disease worldwide," said Kristine B. Walhovd, Kavli Prize Committee in Neuroscience.

Go deeper: How science can prepare us for the next crisis

Go deeper