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Balzan and Fields Awards Honor Distinguished Scientists

Posted October. 13, 2007 07:03,   


This year’s Nobel Prize winners in medicine, physics, and chemistry were announced from Monday through Wednesday. The Nobel Prize is the world’s most renowned award in science. The domestic science community has been also waiting for Korean scientists to be honored with the Prize. However, one will notice there are many international prizes comparable to the Nobel Prize. Overshadowed by the reputation of the Nobel Prize, they have just failed to draw people’s attention. Those lesser known international scientific awards are wide open to Korea’s young scientists.

Japan and China Frequently Awarded International Science Prizes -

The International Balzan Prize Foundation in Italy started in 1961, awarding the Balzan Prize every year to people who have made outstanding achievements in the natural sciences. Eugenio Balzan, who worked as an owner as well as chief editor for “Corriere della Sera,” an Italian mass-circulating daily newspaper from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, carried out charity work while shuttling between Italy and Switzerland. The International Balzan Prize Foundation was founded in 1956 by Angela Lina Balzan, the daughter of Eugenio Balzan, to honor him. The prize money is one million Swiss Francs (about 770 million won), and since 2001, it has been common for winners to donate half the money for projects involving young researchers.

German inventor and diplomat Dr. Ricardo Wolf established the Wolf Foundation while he was preparing for philanthropic work in his later years in Israel in 1975. The foundation has awarded the Wolf Prize annually since 1978 to scientists for their achievements in five fields including agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, and physics. The monetary award amounts to $100,000 (about 92 million won). So far, the foundation has honored 241 scientists from 21 countries. Chinese scientists grabbed the Wolf Prize in 1978 and 2004, the Taiwanese in 1991, and the Japanese in 1995, 2000, 2001, and 2003.

The authority of the Japan Prize awarded by the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan has recently been increasing. It annually chooses living scientists to honor their achievements in two scientific fields and rewards them 50 million yen (about 400 million won).

Korean Mathematicians Expected to Receive the Fields Medal in 10 Years –

The Fields Medal, awarded by the International Mathematical Union, is is often described as the "Nobel Prize of Mathematics.” That’s because the Nobel Prize doesn’t include mathematics. Founded by Canadian mathematician John Charles Fields, the medal is awarded to only four mathematicians who are 40 years old and under at the time of the award. Because of the restrictions, some say its selection process is more rigorous than that of the Nobel Prize. The medal comes with a monetary award of $13,400.

It was the U.S. that has produced the largest number of Fields Medal laureates. Fifteen U.S. mathematicians have so far been honored with the prize. Three Japanese have also received the award. “Currently, several female Korean mathematicians in their 30s who are working at U.S. universities, such as Princeton, Brown, and MIT, are receiving attention as leading candidates of Fields Medal winners. I anticipate Koreans to be honored in 10 years at the latest,” said Hwang Jun-muk, a professor at the Korea Institute for Advanced Study.

Norway’s government founded the Niels Henrik Abel Memorial Fund in 2002 to mark the 200th anniversary of Niels Henrik Abel’s birth. The Fund began awarding the Abel Prize the following year for outstanding scientific work in the field of mathematics. The prize amount is $920,000 (about 840 million won). “Unlike the Fields Medal, the Abel Prize honors authorities in mathematics regardless of age, and it comes with big prize money. So it is expected to be another Nobel Prize in mathematics,” said Lee Hyeon-gu, president of the Korean Academy of Science and Technology.

Being Awarded Prizes from International Academic Societies is a Matter of Reputation -

International academic societies also award prizes, though their levels are lower than the above mentioned prizes, and Korean scientists have often honored by them. Last year, Seoul National University Professor Nam Jwa-min became the first Korean to receive the Victor K. LaMer Award of the American Chemical Society. The award is given to young scientists who have received doctoral degrees in the Division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry within the last five years. The winner receives $2,500 and is invited to give a key note address at the American Chemical Society Symposium. The American Chemical Society and the American Physical Society, which boast the world’s biggest academic societies in terms of number of members, award prizes annually to scientists who have made outstanding achievements in their respective fields.

The International Astronomical Union, the most authoritative international institute in astronomy, has picked annually since 2001 one distinguished astronomer and gives the “Grover Astronomy Award.” Kim Jeong-gu, president of the Korean Physical Society and a professor at SNU, said, “Receiving prizes from international academic societies translates into earning a reputation, let alone earn some prize money.”