Leonard Blavatnik – the Ukrainian-born billionaire from Access Industries who was one of the biggest investors in Mendeley before the acquisition by Elsevier in April – is continuing the trend of investing in research by backing the New York Academy of Sciences’ annual prizes for young scientists.
Tamar Lewin reported in a recent New York Times article that the scheme is building on the success of a smaller program that was piloted in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut over the past seven years. It will now award three prizes of $250,000 each in the areas of Physical Sciences & Engineering, Chemistry and Life Sciences.
It might not seem such a large amount when compared with the Nobel prize (which is currently around $1 million) or the whopping $3 Million that each winner of the newly established Breakthrough Prizes received, yet these awards are targeted towards younger up-and-coming researchers (there is an age limit of 42) rather than those that are already leaders in their field.
The idea, according to Blavatnik is to make the prizes big enough to be interesting but not so large as to be scary. While there are many rewards and incentives for established and prominent scientists, there are fewer initiatives to encourage and support young researchers in a sustained and more systematic way. The aim is to use this incentive to help spur the next generation of scientific innovators. Mr Blavatnik is a philanthropist with a keen interest in scientific research, having funded the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford to the tune of $114 million and also recently donating $50 million to Harvard and $10 million to Yale.
Past finalists and winners of the regional Blavatnik Awards talk about how they were pivotal for their careers: Elisa Oricchio, a Research Fellow of the Cancer Biology & Genetics Program at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center says that the prize is a wonderful stimulus and confidence booster for young scientists and “identifies emerging scientific thought leaders and highlights their work to the broader scientific community.”
Nominations for the prize will come from around 300 leading medical centres and research universities and an advisory council of past winners, Nobel laureates and prominent scientists. The judging panel – made up of 60 distinguished scientists – will then select winners based on the impact, quality and novelty of their research. The first nominations will be accepted from September through December 2013, with winners being announced in September 2014.
“The long-term goal of the awards is to create a pipeline of scientific support in which established scientists choose the most outstanding young faculty-rank scientists, who then go on to mentor the next generation of would-be scientists and award winners,” said the president of the New York Academy of Sciences Ellis Rubinstein.
Do you think these prizes make a real difference towards advancing science and supporting researchers and their work? Mendeley and Elsevier are also looking at some interesting initiatives and awards to support early career researchers, so watch this space, and in the meantime let us know what you think!