Two academics from Italy and one from Germany have won the Balzan Prizes for 2016, worth CHF750,000 ($770,000) each. For the first time, the Balzan Foundation did not award a fourth prize.
This year’s winners are Piero Boitani from the Sapienza University of Rome for “comparative literature”, Reinhard Jahn from the Max-Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen for “molecular and cellular neuroscience”, and Federico Capasso from Harvard for “applied photonics”.
The prizes, regarded as among the most prestigious in the world, are named after Italian journalist Eugenio Balzan, who spent many years in Switzerland during the fascist Mussolini regime in his home country. The fund is administered from Zurich, while the prize foundation is based in Milan.
Boitani was chosen “for his extraordinary ability to portray world literature as a living dialogue with the classics of antiquity, the Middle Ages and the modern era”.
The jury singled out Jahn’s contributions to understanding the processes behind the transmission of signals between nerve cells.
Capasso’s work on new materials with special electronic and optic characteristics has led to the development of new types of lasers, known as quantum cascade lasers.
The committee said it had been unable to agree on a worthy winner for the fourth prize, for “international relations: history and theory”.
Under the terms of the award, half the prize money has to be spent in financing research projects, “preferably” by young scholars. They are awarded in each area at intervals of not less than three years.
The official ceremony will take place in Rome on November 17.
swissinfo.ch and agencies