Top Swiss science prizes awarded to biologist and mathematician

Optimal organisation: Maryna Viazovska (not pictured) won the award for her work on the packing of spheres. Keystone / Marton Monus

Rewarded for their work are a biologist working on cell proteins and a mathematician who solved a centuries-old problem about the optimal arrangement of spheres in a defined space.

This content was published on September 21, 2020 – 11:00

The Marcel Benoist prize, celebrating its hundredth edition, and the National Latsis prize for researchers under the age of 40, will be awarded at a joint ceremony in November in Bern.

The former prize, the “Swiss Nobel”, will be awarded to Rudolf Aebersold, a systems biology professor at the University of Zurich and the Federal Technology Institute ETH Zurich.

Aebersold is one of the founding fathers of “proteomics”, a discipline that examines the entire set of proteins present in a cell, according to a press release by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), which chose both winners.

Using mass spectrometry, Aebersold “revolutionised” how these proteins are observed and measured, the SNSF said. Helping to observe how cells react to changes in their environment, the results can for example be used in the early detection of cancer.

24 dimensions

The National Latsis prize will meanwhile be awarded to 36-year-old Ukrainian Maryna Viazovska, a professor of mathematics at the Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL).

Viazovska solved a problem dating back to the 16th century, when British explorer Walter Raleigh wanted to know how to stack cannonballs most efficiently in a ship’s hold.

Although the problem was solved in the three-dimensional space in 1998 – thanks to massive computer calculations – Viazovska’s “original and amazingly simple” calculation has now solved it in more complex 8- and 24-dimensional space.

Practical applications of her work are for the analysis of crystal structures, or in solving problems in mobile signal transmissions and internet connections.

The awards come with prize money of CHF250,000 ($275,000) and CHF100,000 respectively.

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