Published online 17 December 2008 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2008.1305

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More prizewinners of 2008

Some other recipients of major science prizes this year tell Nature how they did it — and what they will do next.

This story provides additional material to a piece that appeared in the print issue on prizewinners of the year, available here. Here we provide some additional insight and comments from winners of other major science prizes in 2008.

V. Narry Kim, Seoul National University, co-winner of the L'Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science, for her work on microRNAs.

V. Narry Kim

How did you react when you learned that you had won?

I was in my pyjamas pillow-fighting with my kids when I got a phone call from Professor [Günter] Blobel, who delivered me the news in a sober but delightful voice. It was the most unexpected phone call that I've ever got.

What does winning the prize say about women researchers in the Asia-Pacific region?

I heard from numerous young students, particularly female students, that they were very much encouraged. In many countries in the Asia-Pacific region, few women make it to independent positions, let alone leadership positions. I have witnessed so many young talents wasted. I hope that my winning the prize will help the Asian-Pacific scientific community to realize that we cannot afford to lose half the talents any longer.

What can be done to help?

The Korean government has made significant efforts to increase the number of women scientists over the past ten years, by urging research institutions to hire more women scientists and allocating separate funding for women researchers. These initiatives have been helpful, but are not sufficient and should be expanded further.

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Sten Grillner, Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, co-winner of the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience for his work on the neural circuits underlying movement.

What advice or tips do you have for other researchers hoping to be as successful as yourself?

Stick to the problems you find interesting. Listen to advice — but not too much. Also a quote from Stephen Kuffler: "Take care of your research, and your research will take care of you".

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

I have been very impressed with the pioneering work <i>The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals</i> by Charles Darwin, and in general by his imaginative way of approaching important problems.

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Reinhard Genzel, Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, winner of the 2008 Shaw Prize in Astronomy for his work on the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way.

What does winning the prize mean to you?

The Shaw Prize, although only recently established, has already become one of the most prestigious honours in astronomy. Those honoured before certainly are among the very top in our field. I consider myself more than lucky, and I am humbled that the committee felt that I am in that same league. I am particularly pleased that the committee emphasized the long-term coherent effort and our experimental developments. This wonderful prize recognizes the long-term team effort of many young people at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and our collaborators in other institutions, especially the European Southern Observatory.

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Roddam Narasimha, University of Hyderabad, India, co-winner of the Trieste Science Prize for his contributions to fluid dynamics.

What do you plan to do with the money?

I intend to spend some of it fixing my ageing house, some of it on my personal research interests when I will have no support for it from anybody else, and some I would like to give away as awards to young people entering fluid-dynamics research; the rest will go to my family.

How important is it to have a prize that recognizes researchers from developing countries?

I think it is extremely important, first to show that outstanding research can be done in developing countries, and second that there are fundamental problems that surround us in the developing world that are crying out for intelligent basic research.

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How did you become interested in your field?

My first interest was in aeronautics and was aroused from a close encounter with a beautiful World War II Spitfire during an open day at the Indian Institute of Science, at a time when I was too young to know that I was going to study there one day. I always had an interest in clouds and rains and so on, so when I entered the institute as a student I discovered that fluid dynamics was the scientific discipline that was common to both aeronautics and atmospheric dynamics. So it has become my main interest during much of my professional career.

How do you think physics and engineering can grow in India?

If we can show that basic research can shed a great deal of light on real-life problems, and more and more scientists can make a mix of asking fundamental questions in the laboratory and looking at its implications for technology or in the field. I think anything that will make more people realize what an exciting combination that could be would be a step forward. Right now, although India has vast resources of talent, our systems are not designed to make best use of them; we need stronger links between academia, government and industry. And we need more rewarding academic career opportunities for physicists and engineers. 

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