The prizes are given to leading scientists — up to three in a category — in recognition of their groundbreaking contributions to a field. Each honoree will receive a $500,000 cash award as well as a gold laureate pin.
The Genetics Prize was awarded to Stephen J. Elledge for his discoveries regarding the molecular mechanism of the DNA-damage response pathway, a complex molecular process that cells of living organisms use to detect and repair the constant attacks on their DNA from internal and external sources. If such repairs aren't made, the alterations to the DNA can lead to the development of cancer and other diseases. The Neuroscience Prize was awarded to Joshua Sanes for his pioneering work on the formation and specificity of neural synapses. According to the foundation, Sanes' work has fundamentally transformed the study of synapses and led to influential new ideas about how the brain processes information. And the Cosmology Prize was awarded to Sandra M. Faber in recognition of a career that has helped establish many of the foundational principles underlying the modern understanding of the universe. Among her accomplishments, Faber discovered large amounts of dark matter, leading her to conclude that dark matter could not be composed of neutrinos but instead might be another "species" of subatomic particle, not yet known, that travels at a speed much slower than the near light-speed of neutrinos. She also has made significant contributions to the technology of telescopes.
"Astronomical knowledge," said Faber, "is probably the most important single discipline that you need to know in order to be an informed citizen of earth....Astronomical knowledge tells us how we got here and furthermore, having understood that, we can extrapolate more confidently for the future."