Israeli academics among winners of this year's Wolf Prizes

Dalia Itzik and Education Minister Yuli Tamir will present them with their prizes at a ceremony in the Knesset on Sunday.

May 12, 2007 22:29
3 minute read.
Israeli academics among winners of this year's Wolf Prizes

wolf prize 88. (photo credit: )

Eight outstanding scientists and one artist from five countries, including two Israelis, will receive the 2007 Wolf Prize - regarded as "Israel's Nobel Prize" - from acting President Dalia Itzik and Education Minister Yuli Tamir at a ceremony in the Knesset on Sunday. Granted in agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, physics and the arts this year, the prize in each field is worth $100,000. The chemistry prize will be jointly awarded to Prof. Ada Yonath (born 1939 in Israel) of the Weizmann Institute of Science and Rehovot, and Prof. George Feher (born 1924 in Czechoslovakia) of the University of California, San Diego for ingenious structural discoveries of the ribosomal machinery of peptide-bond formation and the light-driven primary processes in photosynthesis. Yonath was the first to discover the unified ribosomal mechanism leading to the production of proteins, and to reveal the ribosome-antibiotics binding sites on the molecular level, providing an insight into antibiotics selectivity. Her work paves the way to dealing with the crucial issue of drug activity and resistance mechanisms, thus touching on a central problem in medicine. Feher pioneered the structure/function relations of the simplest reaction center in photosynthesis, revealing the basic principles of light energy conversion in biology. His work is seminal for the construction of synthetic and semi-synthetic molecular energy converters, which may have profound implications in an energy-demanding world. The mathematics prize will be will be jointly awarded to Prof. Hillel Furstenberg (born 1935 in Germany) of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for his profound contributions to ergodic theory, probability, topological dynamics, analysis on symmetric spaces and homogenous flows, and to Prof. Stephen Smale (born 1930 in the US) of the University of California, Berkeley, for groundbreaking contributions that have played a fundamental role in shaping differential topology, dynamical systems, mathematical economics and other subjects in mathematics. The agriculture prize will be shared by Prof. Ronald L. Phillips (born 1940 in the US) of the University of Minnesota and Prof. Michel A. J. Georges (born 1959 in Belgium) of the University of Liege for groundbreaking discoveries in genetics and genomics, laying the foundations for improvements in crop and livestock breeding, and sparking important advances in plant and animal sciences. Phillips was the first to generate whole corn plants from cells grown in culture, which laid the foundation for, and sparked, a new industry, using cell-culture methods to genetically modify corn plants and other cereals. Georges has been, with his group, a world leader in the field of animal genetics and genomics, and in the development of tools and strategies for increasing the efficiency of genome analysis for livestock improvement. The physics prize is shared by Prof. Albert Fert (born 1938 in France) of the Unit Mixte de Physique and Prof. Peter Gruenberg (born 1939 in Czechoslovakia) of Germany's Juelich Research Center for their independent discovery of the giant magnetoresistance (GMR) phenomenon, thereby launching a new field of research and applications known as spintronics, which utilizes the electron spin to store and transport information. In the technological arena, the GMR has completely revolutionized the magnetic recording industry: The very high sensitivity of GMR-based recording heads has allowed a reduction in the bit size, and hence, an enormous increase in the storage capacity and reading speed of magnetic hard-disk drives. Now, some 18 years after its discovery, all computer hard disks are equipped with read heads based on the GMR effect. The arts prize (for painting and sculpture) will be awarded to Michelangelo Pistoletto (born 1933 in Italy) for his long and highly committed career and his ongoing ability to come up with new possibilities and to encourage the application of imagination to artistic and social change. Retrospectives of Pistoletto's art have been featured at leading museums and international exhibitions, among others, in Madrid, Florence, Rome, Barcelona, the Venice Biennale, and the Documenta in Kassel. His career developed from painting to photo-silk screening of life-size images of people on reflective steel, creating environments, performances, film and video art, sculpture with everyday materials, and establishing a system for communication between art and every other human activity. Pistoletto firmly believes that "art can interact among all the diverse spheres of human activity that form society, and is thereby a generator for responsible transformation of society." Since 1978, five prizes have been awarded annually by the Wolf Foundation to outstanding scientists and artists for achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among peoples. So far, 241 laureates from 21 countries have been honored.

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