Norway to award nanotech 'Nobel prize'

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The winner, or winners, of the first ever science prize for outstanding achievement in nanosciences will be announced next month by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. 

The first winners of the new Kavli Prize, comprising three international awards for outstanding contributions in the fields of nanoscience, neuroscience and astrophysics, will be announced on 28 May 2008.

The prizes, to be awarded every two years, will be presented in co-operation with the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and the Norwegian ministries for education and research and foreign affairs. They are worth $1 million each, which makes them comparable to the cash received by Nobel Prize winners.

According to Professor Reidun Sirevåg, the Academy's secretary general, the prize is the first of its kind for nanoscience. "It will be very interesting to know the winner, as the nanoscience field is not yet that specific," she said. 

The Kavli Prize in Nanoscience will be 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 nanometre scale". These include "molecular self-assembly, nanomaterials, nanoscale instrumentation, nanobiotechnology, macromolecular synthesis, molecular mechanics, and related topics".

The prize aims to promote and stimulate more research on nanosciences at times when debate on the potential health and environmental threats of nanomaterials are gaining ground and scientists are pointing to insufficient risk-assessment methods for nanomaterials used in consumer products that are already on the market.

The head of the Commission's nanoscience unit welcomed the announcement of the prize, arguing that in times when government funding for science is often scarce, "any private schemes to support science and research are welcome and will pay back by generating wealth in the future". 

In order to select the finalists, the Academy has appointed three 
prize committees
on the basis of nominations from leading international academies and scientific organisations, such as the UK Royal Society, the US National Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. 

"The Committee members have been selected very carefully and there is at least one Noble Prize winner in each committee. They will pick the winners that are unquestionably worth the prize," said Sirevåg, adding that it was "extremely important" that the prize winners are accepted by the scientific community.

The committees are meeting in April in Berlin, Washington and New York to decide who will be awarded the prizes. The winners will be announced on 28 May 2008 both in Oslo and at the opening of World Science Week at Columbia University, New York. The prizes will be handed to the winners in September by Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon. The day before the award ceremony, three international symposia will be organised on the fields covered by the Kavli Prize.

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