DATE: Thursday, May 31, 2012
TIME: 8:00 AM-10:00 AM
MODERATOR: Richard Besser
PARTICIPANTS: Angela Belcher, John Holdren, Thomas Jessell, Claire Max

The prestigious Kavli Prizes recognize scientists for major advances in three research areas: astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience—the big, the small and the complex. The 2012 winners, sharing a cash award of $1 million in each field, will be announced via live satellite from the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in Oslo. Delivering opening remarks is John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and co-chair of President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Following the announcement of the winners, three renowned scientists—nanoscientist Angela Belcher, neuroscientist Thomas Jessell and astrophysicist Claire Max—will join ABC News’ chief health and medical editor Richard Besser for a discussion of the scientific achievements of the Kavli Laureates and provide insightful commentary on the next wave of research and opportunities within these dynamic fields.

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(ABC/Heidi Gutman)
Physician, Journalist

Richard Besser is ABC News’ chief health and medical editor. In this role, he provides medical analysis and commentary for all ABC News broadcasts and platforms, including World News with David Muir, Good Morning America, and Nightline. Besser came to ABC News from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where he served as director of the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response. He also served as acting director for the CDC. Besser began his career at the CDC in 1991 in the Epidemic Intelligence Service. Following this, he served for five years on the faculty of the University of California, San Diego, as the pediatric residency director. While in San Diego he worked for the county health department on the control of pediatric tuberculosis. He returned to the CDC in 1998, where he served in various capacities, including epidemiology section chief in the Respiratory Diseases Branch. He received a Surgeon General’s Medallion award for his leadership during the H1N1 response. Richard Besser holds a B.A. in economics from Williams College and received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He completed a residency and chief residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.


Materials Scientist, Biological Engineer

Angela Belcher combines chemistry, molecular biology and electrical engineering to understand how living things make molecular-scale materials and incorporate their tricks into new organic-inorganic hybrid technologies. A materials chemist and the head of the Biomolecular Materials Group at MIT, she has genetically engineered viruses to grow nanoscale structures that can be used in batteries, solar cells, and other clean energy sources. Materials she has developed can also be used to diagnose diseases, and eventually—she hopes—power cars. Belcher is the W. M. Keck Professor of Energy at MIT. She received her Ph.D. and did postdoctoral work at the University of California, Santa Barbara, then became assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Texas, Austin, until joining the MIT faculty in 2002. In the past decade, she has founded two start-ups and has received numerous national awards, including a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and a Four Star General Recognition Award from the U.S. Army. Scientific American named Belcher “Research Leader of the Year” in 2006, TIME magazine named her a “Hero” in 2007 for her research on climate change, and in 2009, Rolling Stone named her one of the “100 People Who Are Changing the World.”

Physicist, Engineer

John Holdren is the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and President Barack Obama’s senior science and technology advisor. An aerospace engineer and plasma physicist by training, he is one of the nation’s foremost experts on energy technology, nuclear arms control and nonproliferation, and global environmental change. Since joining the administration in 2009 he has focused on ensuring that federal policies are supported by sound science while working to create science and technology jobs; strengthen science, engineering, and math education; reduce reliance on energy imports; mitigate climate change; and support the application of biomedical science and information technology to help all Americans live healthy and connected lives.

Before he was appointed to the White House position, Holdren was a professor at Harvard in both the Kennedy School of Government and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, as well as director of the nonprofit Woods Hole Research Center, which focuses on climate change science and policy. His numerous awards include the John Heinz Prize in Public Policy, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, and a 1981 MacArthur Prize Fellowship. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as a foreign member of the British Royal Society—Britain’s academy of sciences.

Neuroscientist, Biochemist

Thomas Jessell has made fundamental contributions to neuroscience by revealing the basic principles of how our nervous system communicates. His work has defined how the neurons that make up the sensory-motor system develop into diverse types, how they wire themselves together, and how that very precise wiring controls refined motor skills such as locomotion and object manipulation. By identifying how sensory motor neurons are connected, Jessell has opened the door to potential strategies to treat and cure neurodegenerative diseases that impair movement, such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

Jessell is Claire Tow Professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University. He is also an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a co-director of the Columbia/Kavli Institute for Brain Science. Jessell is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences, and was a co-recipient of the first-ever Kavli Prize in Neuroscience in 2008. In March, his work was recognized with the Canadian Gairdner Foundation award.


Claire Max studies adaptive optics, a technology that can remove the blurring effects of the earth’s atmosphere and let telescopes on the ground “see” as clearly as if they were in space. She has worked to develop new adaptive optics techniques such as laser guide stars, artificial “stars” projected from the ground to help instruments adjust for that atmospheric distortion, and used them to study supermassive black holes in faraway colliding galaxies. Max is a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she directs the Center for Adaptive Optics. She is also project scientist for the Next Generation Adaptive Optics system at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, and she led the team of researchers who developed the laser guide star systems at Keck and at UCSC’s Lick Observatory.

Max received her Ph.D. in astrophysical sciences from Princeton University and was a postdoctoral fellow in physics at UC Berkeley. For many years she worked as a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore NationalLaboratory, where she was the founding director of LLNL’s branch of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. Max is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and she received the Ernest O. Lawrence Award in Physics from the U.S. Department of Energy in 2004.