Announcing the winners of the 2012 Vilcek Prizes…

At the heart of the Vilcek Foundation mission is our awards program; it is through the presentation of the Vilcek Prizes and the Creative Promise Prizes each spring that we most directly fulfill our guiding purpose, to raise public awareness of the outstanding contributions of foreign-born scientists and artists living and working in the United States. And so, as we prepare in earnest for our seventh annual awards dinner, to be held this year on April 2, it is with great pride and genuine pleasure that we introduce you to our four 2012 prize recipients, each of whom is a stellar addition to the Vilcek Foundation “alumni.”

As the recipient of the 2012 Vilcek Prize in the Arts – this year recognizing the field of dance – our jury chose the man known the world over as “Misha.” From his first appearance on an American stage, in 1974, Mikhail Baryshnikov literally thrilled audiences, bringing them to their feet night after night and making ballet tickets as hard to come by as those for championship sporting events. Not content to rest on his laurels, which are plentiful, this Renaissance man has never stopped extending his reach, both in the dance world and throughout the arts community. Today, he continues to perform, dancing and acting, and oversees the Baryshnikov Arts Center, in New York City.

Carlos Bustamante, PhD, is our 2012 recipient of Vilcek Prize for Biomedical Science. The Foundation’s science jury selected him in recognition of his groundbreaking research into the inner workings of the cell and for inventing tools to study life-sustaining cellular processes at the level of single molecules. In breakthrough experiments he devised, the Lima, Peru-born scientist showed it is possible to visualize and manipulate single molecules of DNA, RNA and protein inside cells. As an HHMI Investigator today, Dr. Bustamante continues to develop novel methods of single molecule manipulation; his dream is to one day build a living cell from mitochondria.

The Creative Promise Prizes, established by the Foundation in 2009 to honor earlier-stage career achievement, this year we present to Alice Ting, PhD, in Biomedical Science, and Michel Kouakou, in Dance. Taiwan native Dr. Ting was raised in Texas, where an early interest in math was supplanted by a passion for organic chemistry. Cited by the science jury in particular for her dedication to solving the problem of specific protein functioning, through site-specific protein labeling, today she is Associate Professor with Tenure, at MIT, where she heads her own lab and plans to “tackle other extremely important and difficult problems at the chemistry-biology interface.” Mr. Kouakou, chosen by the Creative Promise arts jury for his creative use of dance to build bridges of cultural understanding worldwide, is from Ivory Coast. He “speaks” the language of dance from Africa, Asia, Europe, and America, though his dance aesthetic remains firmly rooted in Africa, the source of his earliest experiences with, and studies in, movement.

Because the Creative Promise Prize is a competitive award—applicants are required to submit essays, letters of recommendation, and examples of their best work—we also ask our juries to select winners of four finalist awards in both the Biomedical Science and Arts categories. This year’s finalists in Biomedical Science are: Konrad Hochedlinger, PhD, Andreas Hochwagen, PhD, Benjamin tenOever, PhD, and Songhai Shi, PhD. The 2012 finalists in Dance are: Fanny Ara, Thang Dao, Alice Gosti, and Pontus Lidberg.

In reviewing the extraordinary accomplishments of this year’s Vilcek Prize and Creative Promise Prize winners, Dr. Jan Vilcek, President, also took note of the Foundation’s own achievements in the seven years since the initiation of the awards program, with an eye on the future. “Even as our efforts have become more widely recognized,” he said, “we feel the import of our mission more intensely. For every foreign-born scientist and artist we pay tribute to, in the form of these prizes, we never forget there are thousands more all over this country who also deserve acknowledgment, even if it is just from the communities where they live and work. It is with that knowledge that we recommit ourselves each year to spreading the word about the immigrant contributions to American science and culture.”

Each of the Vilcek Prize winners receives a $100,000 cash award and a commemorative trophy, designed by Stefan Sagmeister. The Creative Promise Prize winners are awarded $25,000 and a commemorative plaque, also designed by Mr. Sagmeister. The Creative Promise finalists each receive a $5,000 cash award and a diploma. The Vilcek Foundation is most grateful to the members of the four juries that selected the 2012 prizewinners.

The 2012 Vilcek Foundation awards will be bestowed during a special ceremony to be held in New York City on April 2. Please take the time to get to know Carlos Bustamante, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Alice Ting, and Michel Kouakou by clicking here, to access their detailed biographies. 

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