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Prizes for Encouraging Work in Nanotech

In the early 1990s, the Foresight Institute began awarding prizes to recognize important work in nanotechnology. These "Feynman Prizes" were named for the Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman (pronounced FINE-mun) whose 1959 speech "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" described atomic manipulation as "a development which I think cannot be avoided."

Over the years, Foresight has added several new prizes, like the Foresight Prize for Communication I already described below. Here are the other winners of this year's awards:

David BakerThe Feynman Prize for Theory went to Dr. David Baker (pictured at left) of the University of Washington, and Dr. Brian Kuhlman of UNC. According to the Foresight press release, they were awarded the prize "for their development of RosettaDesign, a program that has a high success rate in designing stable protein structures with a specified backbone folding structure. Their work includes the design of the first protein to be constructed with a backbone fold not observed in nature; in experimental testing, the novel backbone structure was found to be extremely stable and to match the predicted structure with atomic-level accuracy. Their work marks a milestone on a path to molecular machine systems. Professor Baker has made RosettaDesign freely available to the research community."

HommehellingaThe Feynman Prize for Experimental Work went to Duke University's Homme Hellinga (pictured at right) "for his achievement in the engineering of atomically precise devices capable of precise manipulation of other molecular structures. Building on a broad base of achievement in computationally directed protein engineering, he has extended this work to the construction of an enzyme. This achievement demonstrates an innovative blend of techniques, applying computational design to reengineer a structure found in nature into a novel one with a different function. This work breaks new ground in engineering devices that transform molecular structures."

DamianallisAnd the Foresight Institute Distinguished Student Award went to Damian Allis (pictured at left with Foresight vice president Christine Peterson). Mr. Allis, a graduate fellow at Nanorex Corporation and a doctoral candidate at Syracuse University, was awarded the prize "for his work in the application of theoretical computational methods to the design and study of molecules and nanostructures, materials for molecular electronics, non-linear optical materials, and molecular building blocks and biomimetic principles."

Incidentally, the Foresight Institute will be revamping its prizes in the course of the next year. Peter Diamandis, the chairman of the committee that oversaw the X Prize, has agreed to advise Foresight on how to make these prizes more effective. Scott Mize, the president of Foresight, said at the prize banquet that there are plans to increase the prize amounts, and to "expand our relationships with the government" by creating a new prize for the government official who does the best nanotech-related work each year.

My two cents: Foresight should consider some negative awards, too, like the IgNobel Prize and the Bulwer-Lytton Award and Senator Proxmire's old Golden Fleece Awards. I'm sure it won't be hard to find deserving recipients of nanotechnology disservice awards...

October 25, 2004 in Commentary | Permalink

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