Posts Tagged ‘Rockefeller University’

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

At $3 Million, New Award Gives Medical Researchers a Dose of Celebrity

By  in the New York Times
Published: February 20, 2013

Eleven scientists, most of them American, were scheduled to be named on Wednesday as the first winners of the world’s richest academic prize for medicine and biology — $3 million each, more than twice the amount of the Nobel Prize.

Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

Yuri Milner, an entrepreneur.

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Sergey Brin of Google.

Fred Prouser/Reuters

Anne Wojcicki of 23andMe, a genetics company.

Stephen Lam/Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.

The award, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, was established by four Internet titans led by Yuri Milner, a Russian entrepreneur and philanthropist who caused a stir last summer when he began giving physicists $3 million awards.

The others, whom Mr. Milner described as old friends, are Sergey Brin, a co-founder of Google; Anne Wojcicki, the founder of the genetics company 23andMe and Mr. Brin’s wife; and Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. They plan to give five awards annually.

Ms. Wojcicki said the prize was meant to reward scientists “who think big, take risks and have made a significant impact on our lives.”

“These scientists should be household names and heroes in society,” she said.

Many of the first winners have done work on the intricate genetics of cell growth and how it can go wrong to produce cancer. The new prize was scheduled to be announced at a news conference in San Francisco, along with the following recipients:

Cornelia I. Bargmann, who investigates the nervous system and behavior at Rockefeller University.

David Botstein of Princeton University, who maps disease markers in the human genome.

Lewis C. Cantley of Weill Cornell Medical College, who discovered a family of enzymes related to cell growth and cancer.

Dr. Hans Clevers of the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands, who has studied how processes in adult stem cells can go wrong and cause cancer.

Dr. Napoleone Ferrara of the University of California, San Diego, whose work on tumor growth has led to therapies for some kinds of cancer and eye disease.

Titia de Lange, who works on telomeres, the protective tips on the ends of chromosomes, at Rockefeller University.

Eric S. Lander of the Broad Institute of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a leader of theHuman Genome Project.

Dr. Charles L. Sawyers of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who has investigated the signaling pathways that drive a cell to cancer.

Dr. Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins University, who discovered a protein that suppresses the growth of tumors and devised a model for the progression of colon cancer that is widely used in colonoscopy.

Robert A. Weinberg of M.I.T., who discovered the first human oncogene, a gene that when mutated causes cancer.

Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, who has done groundbreaking work in developing stem cells.

In an interview, Dr. Lander said he was shocked to win the award, calling it “a staggering sum for an individual prize.”

“Their idea seems to be to grab society’s attention, to send a message that science is exciting, important, cool, our future,” he said. “It’s a very important message here in the U.S.” Dr. Lander said he would use the prize money to help pay for new approaches to teaching biology online.

The new awards are in some ways an outgrowth of Mr. Milner’s Fundamental Physics Prizes. In July, he gave $3 million each to nine theoretical physicists, and the next round is scheduled to be awarded on March 20 in Geneva.

But even as Mr. Milner was starting the physics prize, he was thinking of extending the concept to the life sciences. He reached out to Arthur D. Levinson, the chairman of Apple and a former chief executive of Genentech, the biotech company, and Dr. Levinson, in consultation with his colleagues, helped Mr. Milner select the first Breakthrough winners. These winners will form a committee that will select future winners, Mr. Milner said.

The founders said their goal was to “move the needle” of public awareness of scientists who have spent their lives advancing human knowledge.

With so much focus on sports and movie celebrities, Dr. Levinson said, the prizewinners “can share the stage with the people who on some deeper level have made important contributions.”

The founders said they hoped to attract more sponsors and increase the number of annual winners. Anyone can send a nomination to the foundation’s new Web site.

There are no age or other limits on who can win. Any number of people can share an award. And in particular, Mr. Milner said, there are no limits on how many times one individual can win. “If you’re Einstein,” he said, “you will be getting three.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 23, 2013

An article on Wednesday about the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences quoted incorrectly from comments by Eric S. Lander, one of the recipients. He called the award “a staggering sum for an individual prize,” not “a staggering amount of money for a scientist.” An accompanying picture caption repeated the erroneous phrase “a staggering amount.”


Scientists Receive a New Physics Prize


Published: July 31, 2012

Physicists are rarely wealthy or famous, but a new prize rewarding research at the field’s cutting edges has made nine of them instant multimillionaires.

Yuri Milner
Simon Dawson/Bloomberg News

Yuri Milner

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The nine are recipients of the Fundamental Physics Prize, established by Yuri Milner, a Russian physics student who dropped out of graduate school in 1989 and later earned billions investing in Internet companies like Facebook and Groupon.

“It knocked me off my feet,” said Alan H. Guth, a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was among the winners. He came up with the idea of cosmic inflation, that there was a period of extremely rapid expansion in the first instant of the universe.

When he was told of the $3 million prize, he assumed that the money would be shared among the winners. Not so: Instead, each of this year’s nine recipients will receive $3 million, the most lucrative academic prize in the world. TheNobel Prize currently comes with an award of $1.2 million, usually split by two or three people. The Templeton Prize, which honors contributions to understanding spiritual dimensions of life, has been the largest monetary award given to an individual, $1.7 million this year.

The $3 million has already appeared in Dr. Guth’s bank account, one that had had a balance of $200. “Suddenly, it said, $3,000,200,” he said. “The bank charged a $12 wire transfer fee, but that was easily affordable.”

Mr. Milner said that he wanted to recognize advances in delving into the deepest mysteries of physics and the universe. “This intellectual quest to understand the universe really defines us as human beings,” he said.

Four of the physicists work at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.: Nima Arkani-HamedJuan MaldacenaNathan Seiberg and Edward Witten. They work on theories trying to tie together the basic particles and forces of the universe, particularly with a mathematical machinery known as string theory.

The other winners are Andrei Linde, a physicist at Stanford who also worked on cosmic inflation; Alexei Kitaev, a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology who works on quantum computers; Maxim Kontsevich, a mathematician at the Institute of Advanced Scientific Studies outside Paris whose abstract mathematical findings proved useful to physicists unraveling string theory; and Ashoke Sen, a string theorist at Harish-Chandra Research Institute in India.

Mr. Milner personally selected the inaugural group, but future recipients of the Fundamental Physics Prize, to be awarded annually, will be decided by previous winners.

He declined to explain in detail how he selected which accomplishments to honor or why all of the winners are men. “I truly see this as a start,” Mr. Milner said. “Going forward, it’s going to be up to the committee to make those considerations.”

According to the rules, the prize in future years may be split among multiple winners, and a researcher will be able to win more than once. Mr. Milner also announced that there would be a $100,000 prize to honor promising young researchers.

Unlike the Nobel in physics, the Fundamental Physics Prize can be awarded to scientists whose ideas have not yet been verified by experiments, which often occurs decades later. Sometimes a radical new idea “really deserves recognition right away because it expands our understanding of at least what is possible,” Mr. Milner said.

Dr. Arkani-Hamed, for example, has worked on theories about the origin of the Higgs boson, the particle thought to have been discovered recently at the Large Hadron Colliderin Switzerland, and about how that collider could discover new dimensions. None of his theories have been proved yet. He said several were “under strain” because of the new data.

Several of the winners said they hoped that the new prize, with its large cash award, would help raise recognition of physics and draw more students into the field. “It’ll be great to have this sort of showcase for what’s going on in the subject every year,” Dr. Arkani-Hamed said.

The winners said they had not yet decided what to do with their windfall.

“There are some rather mundane things, like paying out the mortgage,” said Mr. Kitaev, who added that he was thinking about putting some of the money into education efforts.

“My success is in large part due to good education, my teachers and the atmosphere of excitement in science when I grew up,” he said. “I might try to help restore this atmosphere as much as I can.”

Dr. Guth agreed. “I do think prizes like this help put across to the public that fundamental physics is important, and it’s not just heavyweight boxing that’s worthy of prizes,” he said.

But he was going to warn his students not to get the wrong idea. “Certainly, it’s still not a great idea to go into physics for the money,” he said.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 1, 2012

An article on Tuesday about the new Fundamental Physics Prize misattributed a quotation by a winner about how he would spend the $3 million in prize money. It was Alexei Kitaev, a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology — not Maxim Kontsevich, a mathematician at the Institute of Advanced Scientific Studies outside Paris who is among the eight other prizewinners — who said, in part, “There are some rather mundane things, like paying out the mortgage.” The article also gave an outdated amount for the monetary award to winners of the Nobel Prize. The prize was reduced this year to about $1.2 million, from about $1.5 million.


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World Science Festival Brings Scientific Exploration to NYC

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

11MondayJun 2012

Written by Robyn L. Beliveau in Events


Robyn L. Beliveau is the Director of Events at the New York Genome Center.

Whether you are a realist or a dreamer, the World Science Festival is a realm of infinite possibilities that brings wonder and excitement to New York City. The festival blends the sophisticated and the childlike and offers up a diverse array of programs and presentations to appeal to the scientist in all of us.

Events are scattered around the city, showcasing the incredible resources that New York City has to offer, from the 3000-plus seating capacity at the beautiful United Palace Theatre in Washington Heights to the Polytechnic Institute of New York University’s Metrotech Plaza in Brooklyn.

The goal of the festival is to excite and educate the general public on the scientific endeavors that are currently happening, both around the world and right in our backyard. Where else can children of all ages (and adults) encounter the first full-sized, walking, autonomous robot built in the United States?

New York City is one of the most incredible cities in the world – diverse, multicultural – and home to several of the finest academic institutions in the world. And as host to the World Science Festival, NYC endeavors to bring the world of science and its mysteries to more than just the scientific community.

As an employee of the New York Genome Center, I was excited that we were sponsoring the World Science Festival – particularly, the Scientist’s Apprentice Program which sends schools and youth groups to the programs and performances; the program also provides them the opportunity to attend workshops geared towards specific areas of science.

The Festival opened with a family friendly program, “Icarus at the Edge of Time,” written by Brian Greene, who is the co-founder of the World Science Festival, as well as a scientist, author and Columbia University professor. Adapted from Greene’s children’s book, Icarus tells the tale of a teenage boy living aboard a starship who wishes to explore the universe, particularly a black hole the starship encounters. His journey is documented through an incredible futuristic animated display narrated by actor LeVar Burton and accompanied by a live orchestral score written by the renowned Philip Glass and performed by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.

Over three thousand people of all ages attended the program, which launched the annual event and set the tone for an incredible four days of programs intended to ignite the public’s passion for science and the never-ending desire for knowledge.

Whether you were interested in how the brain works or want to explore the universe, there was a program for everyone. For the artist, there was an opportunity to hear from Argentinian-born artist Tomás Saraceno and view his exhibit, Cloud Cities, which will be available at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until November. For the beer enthusiast, Cheers to Science offered an opportunity to explore how ancient brews were created.

The family-friendly events included an extraordinary array of interactive exhibits and opportunities for people of all ages to engage and explore different areas of science. At Innovation Square, children and adults entered what looked like a black bounce house only to discover they were hurtling through space trying to avoid asteroids and the sun, all in search of the elusive black hole to disappear down.

The World Science Festival also hosted the announcement of the winners of the esteemed $1 million Kavli prizes, recognizing scientists for major advances in nanoscience, neuroscience, and astrophysics. NYGC would like to congratulate Dr. Cori Bargmann, an accomplished neurobiologist fromRockefeller University, on her award for the prize in neuroscience. Rockefeller University is one of NYGC’s Institutional Founding Members, and we were proud to share in Dr. Bargmann’s accomplishment.

If you missed any or all of the festival this time around, you can be sure the World Science Festival will be back next year with more fantastic, fun, and futuristic programs, and it will certainly be interesting to see next year’s program schedule. As for this year, the New York Genome Center was proud to sponsor the World Science Festival and support the students of today who may become the scientists of tomorrow.

About the New York Genome Center

The New York Genome Center (NYGC) is an independent, non-profit organization that leverages the collaborative resources of leading academic medical centers, research universities, and commercial organizations. Its vision is to transform medical research and clinical care in New York and beyond through the creation of what will be one of the largest genomics and bioinformatics facilities in North America. 


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