Stargazers, cancer researcher among ‘pre-Nobel’ winners

Laureates of Israel’s Wolf Foundation prize in the sciences and arts are often bound for global honors

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

President Shimon Peres with the winners of 2013 Wolf Prizes (Photo credit: Courtesy)
President Shimon Peres with the winners of 2013 Wolf Prizes (Photo credit: Courtesy)

The Wolf Foundation on Tuesday announced the laureates of the 2017 Wolf Prize, also known as the “Israeli Nobel Prize,” for achievements in the arts and sciences.

The five awards, in chemistry, mathematics, physics, medicine and arts, totaling $100,000 in each field, will be divided this year between eight winners from three countries, the US, UK and Switzerland, the foundation said.

The prizes will be awarded to the winners in June by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at an official ceremony at the Knesset in Jerusalem. Twenty-six percent of previous Wolf laureates have gone on to win Nobel Prizes later, in parallel fields.

The Wolf Prize for Chemistry will be awarded to Prof. Robert G. Bergman from Berkeley University in California for the discovery of the activation of C-H bonds of hydrocarbons by soluble transition metal complexes.

The Wolf Prize for Mathematics will be shared by two laureates: Prof. Richard Schoen from Stanford University and Prof. Charles Fefferman from Princeton University, “for their striking contributions to analysis and geometry.

The Wolf Prize for Physics will be shared by two laureates, Prof. Michel Mayor from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and Professor Didier Queloz from Cambridge University and University of Geneva, Switzerland for the first discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star.

Prof. Jim Allison, recepient of the 2017 Wolf Prize for Medicine (Courtesy)
Prof. Jim Allison, recepient of the 2017 Wolf Prize for Medicine (Courtesy)

The Wolf Prize for Medicine will be awarded to Prof. Jim Allison from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, for “sparking a revolution in cancer therapy” through his discovery of an immune checkpoint blockade. Allison’s “brilliant insight that blocking the function of inhibitory receptors on T lymphocytes could result in activation of anti-tumor immunity forever transformed the field of immunotherapy,” the Wolf foundation said in a statement.

The Wolf Prize for Arts will be shared by Lawrence Weiner and Laurie Anderson from New York, for the “radicalism and avant-garde at the core of their work, and for inspiring generations to come.”

Anderson’s work is “a significant example of the essence of multi-disciplinary art” that has developed since the 1970s, the foundation said. Her work is manifested in music, performance, films, poetry and visual art, “while breaking the boundaries between media and expanding the range of creativity. She paved the path to a new kind of artwork, discovering new territories for art while combining different media, aesthetics and technologies. She can be characterized as a symbol of our time — always trying new options and challenging norms.”

Laurie Anderson, recepient of the 2017 Wolf Prize for the Arts (Courtesy)
Laurie Anderson, recepient of the 2017 Wolf Prize for the Arts (Courtesy)

Weiner, one of the “leading figures in the art world of the last decade” is recognized as a pioneer of conceptual art, displaying an “unprecedented use of language as material” and using a variety of languages.

The Wolf Prize is distributed annually in five out of eight disciplines (the disciplines change on a rotating basis). The Wolf Foundation began its activities in 1976 with an initial endowment fund of $10 million donated by the Wolf family. Since its inception, the foundation has awarded prizes 312 laureates, 12 of whom are women. Over the years 21 Israelis have won the prize, with 172 laureates coming from the US – the biggest number of laureates — followed by the UK with 28.

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