2010 Kavli Prize Laureate Lectures

Your Brain's Cognitive Map

The Deepest Sound in Space

Blue Sky Science

CRISPR in Context

Featuring previously undiscovered ideas in Astrophysics, Nanoscience, and Neuroscience, the Kavli Prize Laureate Lectures creates an open space for scientific revelations in each of these fields to be shared and discussed. The presenting laureates have all been recognized for breaking new ground in their respective fields, and offer a new insight into their discoveries.

2010 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics: Jerry Nelson, Raymond Wilson and Roger Angel

"for their contributions to the development of giant telescopes." 

New telescopes and their instrumentation are at the heart of progress in astronomy. The size of the telescope primary mirror determines the light-gathering power and ability to detect and resolve the faintest and most distant objects in the universe. Jerry Nelson, Ray Wilson and Roger Angel have pioneered the development of a new generation of large optical telescopes. These advances have enabled not only the construction of larger mirrors but also more sophisticated shaping of the mirror surfaces, leading to lighter telescopes and more compact telescope enclosures. All three telescope concepts have had outstanding successes, leading to a wide range of fundamental discoveries.

Watch the lectures:

Read Abstracts for Jerry Nelson, Ray Wilson, and Roger Angel.


2010 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience: Donald Eigler and Nadrian Seeman

“for their development of unprecedented methods to control matter on the nanoscale.”

Donald Eigler reserved his place in the history of science in 1989 when he became the first person ever to pick up an individual atom and move it precisely to another location, and then went on to make a series of breakthroughs that have helped us to understand some of the the most basic units of matter. A decade before Eigler’s historic achievement, Nadrian Seeman invented structural DNA nanotechnology when he realised the building blocks of the genetic blueprint of living organisms could be harnessed to create the raw materials for new, nanoscale circuits, sensors and medical devices.

Watch the lectures:

Read Abstracts for Donald Eigler and Nadrian Seeman


2010 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience: Richard Scheller, Thomas Südhof and James Rothman

“for discovering the molecular basis of neurotransmitter release."

The question of how nerve cells communicate with one another has been a central problem in modern neuroscience since the pioneering studies of Cajal, Dale and Sherrington. By the 1980s, it was well established that nerve cells communicate through the process of chemical synaptic transmission at specialized contacts called synapses. Electron microscopic studies revealed that the presynaptic terminal of the neuron transmitting the information is filled with synaptic vesicles, small organelles containing thousands of molecules of a chemical neurotransmitter. During an action potential, calcium influx into the presynaptic terminal triggers the fusion of synaptic vesicles with the plasma membrane, leading to the release of transmitter through the process of exocytosis. Over the past thirty years, Richard Scheller, Thomas Südhof, and James Rothman, have used a creative multidisciplinary set of approaches to elucidate the key molecular events of neurotransmitter release. Moreover, their work demonstrates that neurotransmitter release represents a special case of the fundamental cell biological process of membrane trafficking.

Watch the lectures:

Read Abstracts and Manuscripts for Richard Scheller, Thomas Südhof, and James Rothman



Roger Angel: "Telescopes for Enlightenment and for Energy"

Today's largest astronomical telescopes have mirrors up to 10 m in diameter and very efficient detectors.  Yet faint starlight that has travelled long and far across the universe may register as an electrical current of only a few photoelectrons a second.  At the University of Arizona's Mirror Lab we are building a still bigger reflector, 25 m diameter, to see even further with the Giant Magellan Telescope.  We are also developing a completely different kind of telescope, which will make electricity from bright sunlight rather than faint starlight. Sunshine is free and abundant, but dilute -- a solar farm of tens of square kilometers is needed to generate the energy of a full-size power station. The new telescopes will each make 20 kW of electricity by focusing 75 square meters of sunlight onto small, inexpensive, but highly efficient photovoltaic devices, and they are designed to be mass-produced by the millions for gigawatt-scale solar farms.     Return to Top

Donald Eigler: "Atom Manipulation - A Milestone for Mankind, A Tool for Nanoscience"

In 1959 Richard Feynman gave a remarkably prescient and now-famous talk titled "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" in which he spoke of the possibilities afforded by extreme miniaturization.  In that talk he discussed a "great future" in which "we can arrange the atoms the way we want."   Thirty years later, in 1989, we had the good fortune to achieve that milestone.  Feynman's "great future" was ushered in with the discovery of ways to manipulate individual atoms using a scanning tunneling microscope. In this lecture I will review the basics of scanning tunneling microscopy and go on to describe how we learned to extend its capabilities to include the construction of atomically-precise structures through the manipulation of individual atoms.  I will highlight examples of how we use atom manipulation as a laboratory tool to help us build our understanding of the physics of nanometer-scale structures. Return to Top

Jerry Nelson: "The Development of Segmented Mirror Telescopes"

I describe the history of segmented mirror telescopes and highlight the key aspects that made such telescopes impractical in the past.  The two primary issues have been the approach to aligning the mirror segments, and an economical approach to polishing the mirror segments. The solutions found to these problems are described as well as the design approach to the telescope as a whole.  A few science highlights, demonstrating the success of the Keck Observatory, the first of the segmented mirror telescopes, are also explored. Return to Top

James Rothman: "Discovery of the Principle of Membrane Fusion and Neurotransmitter Release"

Membrane fusion, the basic process that releases neurotransmitters and other secretions, and which also underlies membrane dynamics in the cell, was discovered in the 1960's from static electron microscope pictures. But, its mechanism and the basis for its remarkable speed and specificity was a complete mystery.  The mystery began to unravel when we reproduced specific fusion in a cell-free extract (1980), opening the door to biochemistry. Successive threads were then revealed in the form of NSF (1988) and a soluble NSF attachment protein, SNAP (1990), the cytoplasmic components of a universally-conserved process. This led to the discovery of the membrane receptors for these proteins (1993), which we termed "SNAREs" for Soluble NSF Attachment Protein Receptors, and their complex - the SNARE complex, the essential principle of membrane fusion.  How this happened will be the subject of this lecture. Return to Top

Richard Scheller: "The Molecular Mechanism of Intracellular Membrane Fusion"

Analysis of the biochemical properties of proteins associated with synaptic vesicles has lead to an understanding of the molecular mechanism of neurotransmitter release. Membrane fusion is driven by the formation of a protein complex comprised of the vesicle protein VAMP 1, and two plasma membrane proteins syntaxin 1 and SNAP-25. This very stable "SNARE complex" is dissociated by the action of alpha- SNAP and ATP hydrolysis by NSF in order to mediate another round of membrane fusion. All intracellular membrane fusion is driven by the formation of similar SNARE complexes comprised of proteins related to VAMP 1, syntaxin 1 and SNAP-25. The localization of particular SNARE proteins to distinct organelles and specificity of fusion complex formation is, in part, responsible for the membrane compartment organization of all eukaryotic cells. Return to Top

Nadrian Seeman: "DNA - Not Merely the Secret of Life"

DNA is well-known as the genetic material of living organisms.  Its most prominent feature is that the well-known Watson-Crick base pairing interactions, adenine with thymine and guanine with cytosine allow it to replicate itself.  We have used these same interactions in programmed sequences to control the branching and linking of DNA.  The resulting components can be combined with single-stranded overhangs to enable the construction of objects, lattices and nanomechanical devices made from DNA.  We have made designed polyhedra and 2D crystals of DNA on the nanoscopic scale.  We have used similar components to self-assemble designed 3D crystals visible to the naked eye.  A number of nanomechanical devices have been constructed, including shape-shifting machines and walkers that proceed along a track. Recently, these species have been combined into a programmable assembly line for nanoscale construction. Return to Top

Thomas Südhof: "How Calcium Triggers Neurotransmitter Release to Initiate Synaptic Transmission"

Ever since the pioneering work of Bernhard Katz, we have known that calcium triggers neurotransmitter release via synaptic vesicle exocytosis to initiate synaptic transmission. Katz was the first among many eminent scientists to describe the beautiful precision and extraordinary speed of neurotransmitter release, but how this could possibly be achieved by a plausible molecular mechanism remained unknown. In work complementary to that of others, we set out two decades ago to solve this fundamental question. The picture that emerges from this work is that synaptic vesicle exocytosis operates by a general mechanism of membrane fusion that revealed itself to be a model for all membrane fusion, but that is uniquely regulated by a calcium-sensor protein called synaptotagmin. The general membrane-fusion mechanism thus identified is mediated by SNARE- (for soluble NSF-receptors) and SM-proteins (for Sec1/Munc18-like proteins), largely discovered at the synapse, with synaptotagmin acting together with a molecular assistant called complexin as a clamp and activator of the membrane fusion mediated by the SNARE- and SM-proteins. Strikingly, the biochemical properties of synaptotagmin were found to precisely correspond to the extraordinary calcium-triggering properties of release, and to account for a regulatory pathway that also applies to other types of calcium-triggered fusion, for example fusion observed in hormone secretion and fertilization. At the synapse, finally, these interdependent machines -- the fusion apparatus and its synaptotagmin-dependent control mechanism -- are embedded in a proteinaceous active zone that links them to calcium channels, and regulates the docking and priming of synaptic vesicles for subsequent calcium-triggered fusion. Thus, work on neurotransmitter release revealed a hierarchy of molecular machines that mediate the fusion of synaptic vesicles, the calcium-control of this fusion, and the embedding of calcium-controlled fusion in the context of the presynaptic terminal at the synapse. Return to Top

Raymond Wilson: "From the Classical Passive Reflecting Telescope to the Modern Active Ones"

The evolution of passive telescopes is briefly described with about 6 figures showing the most important developments. A further 6 -- 9 figures deal more intensively with the development of modern active telescopes up to the giant 30m projects in California and the 42m ESO (European) project (E-ELT). Return to Top