NAS Honors 10 U.S. Nobel and Kavli Prize Laureates

Story by Stephanie Miceli — April 10, 2019

From revolutionizing cancer care to modeling the economic impact of climate change, recent winners of  Nobel and Kavli Prizes have explored virtually every angle of science.

On Tuesday afternoon and evening, 10 of these esteemed individuals were honored by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) at events on Capitol Hill and at the NAS building.

NAS President Marcia McNutt kicked off the reception held in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol and co-hosted by U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Christopher Coons (D-Del.).

McNutt applauded the laureates’ scientific achievements, their creativity, and their advancement of human knowledge. “Because of the vibrant research ecosystem here that supports young scientists and gives them the freedom to push the boundaries of human understanding, they were able to achieve the pinnacle of their life’s work in the U.S.,” she said.

Following her remarks, Kelvin Droegemeier, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, added that in order for the U.S. to retain its competitive edge in science and technology, there needs to be enduring and reliable support for research from both sides of the aisle.

“You provide a beacon of leadership in the U.S.,” Droegemeier told the laureates. “We want to be an enterprise that’s worthy of your accomplishments — because science anywhere is good for science everywhere,” he said.

The co-hosts, Senators Alexander and Coons, also addressed the group.

Senator Alexander said “part of the joy in serving in public life” is playing a role in supporting “breathtaking advances in science and technology.”

Senator Coons, who credited his Republican colleague for being a “true champion of science,” remarked that federal investment in fundamental science and human capital has created numerous jobs and returned taxpayer money “many, many times over.” He added, the work of these 10 laureates alone has “awarded Americans with new discoveries,” such as the CRISPR gene editing tool, the detection of gravitational waves, and breakthroughs in human hearing. 

Later in the evening, the attendees headed to the NAS building for a panel discussion with the laureates, facilitated by Mariette DiChristina, editor-in-chief of Scientific American. DiChristina asked the panel to address several topics, including “big science versus small science,” the barriers to using certain innovations in clinical settings, the concept of open data sharing, and what drives their work.

For many, the distinction of winning a Nobel or Kavli represents a career high point. It comes with tremendous prestige and an unspoken responsibility to be an ambassador for science — not only among their colleagues but also in their communities and even in elementary school classrooms.

“These prizes [Nobel and Kavli] are not about you. These prizes are given to science. It’s about bringing science to other people and the chance to share it with the whole world,” said Frances Arnold, who was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

This special event recognizes the importance the NAS places on championing and catalyzing the transformative work of scientists from the U.S. and from every corner of the world.  

The honorees were:

Left to right: Victor Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine; William Nordhaus; A. James Hudspeth; Frances Arnold; Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences; Sen. Chris Coons; Arthur Ashkin (seated); Robert Fettiplace; George Smith; James Allison; Paul Romer; Jennifer Doudna; Robert Conn, president and CEO of the Kavli Foundation (not pictured: Sen. Lamar Alexander and Rainer Weiss)