Wolf Prizes in the sciences and arts presented to nine North Americans

Nine outstanding North Americans in the sciences and the arts were on Thursday night awarded five Wolf Prizes.

Linda J. Saif (photo credit: Courtesy)
Linda J. Saif
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Nine outstanding North Americans in the sciences and the arts were on Thursday night awarded five Wolf Prizes – each worth $100,000.
The Wolf Prize has gained international prestige; in the sciences, it is considered second in importance to the Nobel Prize, with more than a third of recipients going on to win the Nobel. In the arts, it is regarded as the most important award.
The Wolf Foundation, which held the ceremony in Tel Aviv, said: “The 2015 laureates are scientists and artists who have displayed groundbreaking creativity and innovative approaches in their fields, while achieving the highest level of excellence.
We are delighted that, for the first time since the Wolf Prize has been inaugurated, a third of this years’ laureates are women – thus exemplifying the meaningful achievements that women are leading on the path to human excellence.”
In the field of sciences, four prizes were awarded. Prof. Linda J. Saif of Ohio State University received her prize for her work in agriculture. For physics, Prof. James Bjorken from Stanford University and Prof. Robert Kirshner from Harvard University were cited.
The mathematics prize went James Arthur of the University of Toronto. Prof. John Kappler and Prof. Philippa Marrack of National Jewish Health in Denver and Prof.
Jeffrey Ravetch of Rockefeller University in New York received the medicine prize.
In the arts, the prize was presented to American soprano Jessy Norman and to the Israeli-American pianist Murray Perahia.
Saif was praised for advancing animal and human health through research in virology and immunology. Described as “an exceptional virologist and immunologist, she has focused her career on diseases that are of critical importance to agriculture, food security and human health. Her discoveries of novel enteric and respiratory viruses of food animals and humans have led to her extensive contributions of fundamental knowledge of the gut-mammary immunologic axis and have provided new ways to design vaccines and vaccination strategies.”
Saif discovered new paradigms of the complex way the immune system protects animals against intestinal infections, along with new viruses that cause intestinal diseases in livestock and ways to control them.
Arthur was praised for “his monumental work on the trace formula and his fundamental contributions to the theory of automorphic representations of reductive groups. His development of the trace formula for reductive groups is a monumental mathematical achievement.
It generalizes the Selberg trace formula for SL(2) from 1956.
In his work, Arthur introduced many major tools in non-commutative harmonic analysis on general reductive groups.” Arthur’s ideas, achievements and the techniques he introduced, said the judges, “will have many more deep applications in the theory of automorphic representations, and the study of locally symmetric spaces.
Arthur’s work is a mathematical landmark that will inspire future generations of mathematicians.”
Bjorken was praised for “predicting scaling in deep inelastic scattering, leading to identification of nucleon’s pointlike constituents. He made a crucial contribution for elucidating the nature of the strong force. In 1967 Bjorken predicted that electrons scattering violently off protons would exhibit the so-called scaling behavior, as if they were interacting with pointlike, charged and quasi- free particles inside the nucleon.”
At the time this was “a very counterintuitive and radical idea, yet, subsequent experiments carried out in the late ‘60s provided a stunning confirmation for Bjorken’s scaling prediction. Scaling not only led to the discovery of quarks, but also pointed the direction toward the mathematical framework governing all fundamental interactions.”
Kirshner has devoted his professional life to cutting- edge research on cosmology and supernovae, the foundation said. “He created the group, environment and directions that allowed his graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to uncover the acceleration in the expansion of the universe. This discovery is a landmark in fundamental physics and astronomy and presents a profound challenge to theorists.”
In the 1980s, Kirshner’s program of monitoring supernova explosions in a suite of wavelengths was the world’s most extensive and led to SNIa becoming widely accepted as the best for cosmological investigations. This was an essential step for the later discovery of the acceleration of the expansion.
Kirshner guided the formation of the High Z Supernova Team, one of the two teams widely credited with the discovery of cosmic acceleration.
Especially important was Kirshner’s insistence that the data at more than one color be obtained to allow separation of dust from cosmic-motion effects in the photometry data, the judges’ panel said.
The three medicine laureates are all immunologists.
Kappler, Marrack and Ravetch were praised for making “major contributions to the understanding of the key antigen-specific molecules, the T cell receptor for antigen and antibodies and how these molecules participate in immune recognition and effector function. The prize was divided in two, with one half to the Kappler-Marrack team and one half to Ravetch.
Norman, said the judges, “is not only an outstanding personality in the world of music but has done a great deal to encourage young people to seek a career as singers as well as musicians in general. Besides her musical activity, which enriched large and different audiences from classical music lovers to jazz and Afro-American music followers, she has been involved in very important social activities such as fighting for health-related causes.”
Perahia is considered one of the great pianists of our time.
“He has been a great influence on a great number of upcoming pianists in the world and encouraged many students to enhance their art,” said the judges. “Through his extraordinary performances, he has become a model for all serious musicians and music lovers, while he never compromised his standards.”