Several AAAS fellows, members and awardees are among the recipients of several prestigious awards announced this week: the 2023 Nobel Prizes and the 2023 MacArthur Fellowships, also known as the “Genius Grant.”
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
The 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly to Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman “for their discoveries concerning base modifications that enabled the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19,” the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet announced Oct. 2 in Stockholm.
Karikó and Weissman received the 2021 Golden Goose Award, which recognizes federally funded research that may sound unusual but has ultimately produced great societal benefits. The award was launched in 2012 by a coalition of philanthropic, university and scientific organizations including AAAS. Karikó was also recognized in 2021 by AAAS as an honorary Fellow and has spoken at the AAAS Annual Meeting.
The collaboration between Karikó and Weissman dates to the 1990s at the University of Pennsylvania. Karikó, a biochemist who had trained in her native Hungary, was focused on developing therapeutic uses for messenger RNA – the ribonucleic acid that copies and delivers DNA’s instructions for making proteins. Weissman, an immunologist, was interested in dendritic cells, which are involved in the activation of vaccine-induced immune responses. Their collaboration, which focused on how different types of RNA interact with the immune system, garnered little interest, Weissman said upon his Golden Goose win.
Weissman shared, “We didn’t give up – we saw the potential of it. We saw that it had enormous future impact, and we were luckily right.”
The pair’s discoveries in determining how cells recognize and respond to different forms of mRNA were critical for developing effective vaccines against COVID-19.
“Through their groundbreaking findings, which have fundamentally changed our understanding of how mRNA interacts with our immune system, the laureates contributed to the unprecedented rate of vaccine development during one of the greatest threats to human health in modern times,” said the Nobel Assembly.
Nobel Prize for Chemistry
Among the recipients of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, announced Oct. 4 by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, is Moungi G. Bawendi. Bawendi is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was named a AAAS Fellow in 2002. Along with Louis E. Brus of Columbia University and Alexei I. Ekimov of Nanocrystals Technology Inc., he was recognized for the discovery and synthesis of quantum dots, nanoparticles so small that their behavior is governed by their size rather than their number of electrons, as in every other type of matter.
“Quantum dots have many fascinating and unusual properties. Importantly, they have different colors depending on their size,” said Johan Åqvist, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.
Ekimov and Brus researched quantum dots separately, creating size-dependent quantum effects in colored glass and fluid, respectively. Bawendi revolutionized the chemical production of high-quality quantum dots.
Today, quantum dots have an array of uses, from computer screens and LED lamps to biochemistry research. And the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences predicts even more useful benefits to come from quantum dots, including flexible electronics and thinner solar cells.
“We have just started exploring the potential of these tiny particles,” the academy said in its press release.
Nobel Prize for Physics
Also announced this week were the recipients of the Nobel Prize for Physics. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced Oct. 3 that the 2023 prize is awarded to Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier for experiments that have demonstrated a new way to create very short pulses of light to better understand electron dynamics. Krausz, director at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Germany, is a member of AAAS.
Amber Wutich, a professor of anthropology at Arizona State University, is one of 20 recipients of the 2023 MacArthur Fellowship. Unlike the Nobel Prizes, which recognize recipients’ achievements across six disciplines, the MacArthur Fellowship, colloquially known as the MacArthur Genius Grant, are awarded to individuals who demonstrate “exceptional creativity” in any field—and to provide recipients with the ability to pursue further work.
A no-strings-attached award of $800,000 given over five years, the fellowship “is not a lifetime achievement award, but rather an investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential,” according to the MacArthur Foundation.
Wutich, who was honored by AAAS as a Fellow in 2022, is an anthropologist whose work investigates the impact of water insecurity on human well‑being. Her work has included co-founding and co-directing the Global Ethnohydrology Study, which studies local knowledge about water issues in more than 20 countries. More recently, Wutich’s work has focused on small-scale solutions for water insecurity within marginalized communities in high-income countries. She directs Action for Water Equity, a collaborative project that focuses on solutions for water sharing in communities along the United States-Mexico border.
Wutich's research, which is “done with a sensitivity to the knowledge and needs of vulnerable communities, is critical to ensuring access to safe and adequate water for all,” noted the MacArthur Foundation.