The Vilcek Prize Trophy
Grace Jeffers

The Vilcek Award reflects in its making the remarkable journey of its recipients, foreign-born scholars and artists. Historically, awards—typically in the form of statues or bas-relief plaques—were designed by artists, and produced using traditional artisanal techniques, often repoussé, sculpting, or metal casting. Even today, the production of many of the most widely known and coveted awards—Nobel Prizes, Olympic medals, sports championship cups, and statues in the fields of entertainment—carries on these traditions, in both materials and manufacture.

Not so the Vilcek Award. This twelve-inch spire, evincing reaching, upward movement, is produced using an innovative technique called sterolithography, a rapid prototyping process in which thousands of layers of photopolymer resin are laser-impressed, a four-thousandth of an inch at a time, one on top of the other. The result is a dynamic symbol of achievement that evokes the passage of the immigrant. For those who leave their homeland to start anew in another country, another culture, engage in a similar process of layering-onto native language, a new tongue; onto the life they knew, a life they could not imagine; onto professional skills and knowledge, a new dimension or role, or perhaps an entirely new vocation. But the process is different for each individual, so this too is reflected in the making of the Vilcek Award: forty-eight thousand layers of photopolymer resin emerge from the projected letters of the names of the recipients, making each spire unique to its honoree. As well, the finishing stages in the production of the award mimic the ongoing development of its recipients, who continue to hone their craft and polish their skills over a lifetime, whether in a research lab or artist's studio. Repeatedly, the micro-stepped layers of the Vilcek Award are smoothed to a plate finish, plated with copper, then polished; plated with nickel and polished again.

It would take one who shared the immigrant experience to successfully capture it in a work of art destined to pay tribute to the extraordinary achievements, in biomedical research and the arts and letters, of foreign-born men and women. Indeed, it would take the artistry and foresight of graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister, an Austrian native, to create the Vilcek Award, which exemplifies the value of tradition yet demonstrates a refusal to be limited by it.

  • The Vilcek Prize

    Our commemorative prizes are each uniquely designed by Austrian-born designer Stefan Sagmeister, a testament to the individual achievements of each prizewinner. Watch a behind-the-scenes video on how the Vilcek Prize is made.


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  • Press Images

    Images for publication are available only for the purpose of media coverage of the Vilcek Foundation and its activities. All published images must be accompanied by a credit line and copyright information. Please email for information.