Voyager spacecraft steward among winners of prestigious Hong Kong prizes

A biologist whose work enabled gene-editing tools and a pioneer in mysterious spin magnets also won a Shaw prize.

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Dr Maria Jasin

Molecular biologist Maria Jasin has been honored for her work on DNA repair systems.Credit: The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

A French mathematician and two Americans — a space scientist and a molecular biologist — have won this year’s Shaw prizes, each worth US$1.2 million. The Shaw Prize Foundation in Hong Kong announced the winners on 21 May.

Edward Stone, an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, garnered the astronomy award for his stewardship of NASA’s Voyager mission. Launched in 1977, the twin Voyager spacecrafts revolutionized scientists’ understanding of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. In 2012 and 2018, the crafts became the first objects dispatched from Earth to leave the heliosphere — the boundary that marks the end of the Sun’s realm of influence.

Maria Jasin, a molecular biologist at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, won the life science and medicine award for her studies on homologous recombination, a mechanism by which DNA repairs itself. The research has played a crucial part in enabling gene-editing tools, including the now ubiquitous CRISPR–Cas9 system, which can edit DNA at specific sites on the genome.

Michel Talagrand, a mathematician at the the French national research agency CNRS in Paris, won the mathematical sciences prize for his discoveries in probability theory and stochastic processes, and for resolving mysteries related to the inner workings of ‘spin glasses’, materials in which the atomic spins are stuck in random arrangements with their neighbours rather than aligned.

The Shaw prize, now in its 16th year, recognizes scientists working in mathematical sciences, astronomy, and life sciences and medicine. The prize was established by the late Run Run Shaw, a Hong Kong television and film mogul.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-01650-4

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