Distant Planets, Protein Folding, and Esoteric Mathematics Net Shaw Prizes

And the winner is … Physicist Chen-Ning Yang, Chair of the Shaw Prize Board of Adjudicators, announces the 2012 Shaw Laureates yesterday in Hong Kong.

Shaw Prize Foundation

The discovery of trans-Neptune bodies, breakthroughs in understanding protein folding, and pioneering work in a mathematical technique known as deformation quantization have won this year's Shaw Prizes in, respectively, the categories of astronomy, life science and medicine, and mathematical sciences. The prizes, which include $1 million cash in each category, were announced yesterday in Hong Kong.

David Jewitt of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Jane Luu, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge share the astronomy prize for discovering and characterizing trans-Neptune bodies, or those objects in the solar system orbiting just beyond Neptune. Virtually unknown until their joint discovery in 1992 by Jewitt and Luu, these 1200 or so objects are relics of the formation of the solar system and supply short-period comets.

Protein folding is at the heart of many cellular functions. Franz-Ulrich Hartl, of the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried, Germany, and Arthur Horwich of Yale University—first as a team and then independently—studied the role of "chaperones" in guiding protein folding in vitro and in vivo. Their work has helped to explain normal protein folding as well as what goes wrong in cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer's and Huntington's diseases.

Maxim Kontsevich of the Institute for Advanced Scientific Studies near Paris won recognition for wide ranging work in algebra, geometry, and more esoteric aspects of mathematics including deformation quantization and mirror symmetry.

Hong Kong media mogul Run Run Shaw, whose philanthropic efforts focus on science and medicine research and education, established the prizes in 2002. The winners will receive their awards at a ceremony in Hong Kong in September.