Biographer, Artist, and Genomic Researchers Awarded $1 Million Dan David Prizes

Gala ceremony at TAU showcases exceptional contributions to humanity

The 2012 Dan David Prize laureates.
Standing, left to right: Esther Gilbert,
Ariel David, Prof. David Botstein,
Prof. Eric Lander, William Kentridge,
Prof. J. Craig Venter, Prof. Joseph Klafter.
Seated: Dr. Robert Conquest and
Gabriela David.

An audience of prominent philanthropists, statesmen, academics, and business figures from around the world gathered on the Tel Aviv University campus on Sunday, June 10, for the annual Dan David Prize award ceremony. The Prize, one of the richest in the world of academe, is endowed by the Dan David Foundation and administered at Tel Aviv University.

The Prize has been awarded since 2002 to individuals or institutions with "proven, exceptional, distinct excellence in the sciences, arts, and humanities that have made an outstanding contribution to humanity." An International Board chooses one field of study within each time dimension — past, present, and future — and an independent Review Committee comprised of renowned scholars and professionals aids in choosing the laureates.

One million dollars is awarded in each dimension. Recent former laureates include filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen (2011), former US Vice President Al Gore (2008), former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair (2009), and celebrated author Margaret Atwood (2010).

In 2012, the "Past" dimension was exemplified by the discipline of History/Biography, the "Present" by the Plastic Arts, and the "Future" by Genome Research. This year’s prizes were awarded to:

Dr. Robert Conquest
, a British historian who worked to expose the realities of Stalinist rule; and the Rt. Hon. Sir Martin Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill.

William Kentridge
, an internationally-renowned artist whose work tackles poignant political issues of his native South Africa and issues of social injustice, revolutionary politics, and the power of creative expression.

Dr. J. Craig Venter, Prof. David Botstein, and Prof. Eric Lander
Dr. J. Craig Venter, Prof. David Botstein, and Prof. Eric Lander

Prof. David Botstein
of Princeton University, a champion of the Human Genome Project since its inception; Prof. Eric Lander of the Broad Institute at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who put genomics on a quantitative foundation by developing algorithms that provided necessary data for genetic mapping; and Dr. J. Craig Venter of the J. Craig Venter Institute and CEO of Synthetic Genomics Inc., who has made numerous contributions to the field of genomics.

William Kentridge
William Kentridge

Accepting the prize, Kentridge acknowledged previous laureates who have been personal icons of his, and applauded the Dan David Foundation for its mission, saying the prize recognizes that the artist's studio "is a safe place to construct, deconstruct, and re-imagine the world." Prof. Botstein, who spoke on behalf of his fellow laureates in genome research, said that he was "humbled and grateful for the recognition" as society stands "at the edge of a new era in biology and medicine called the Genomic Era."

The ceremony included performances by the Harel Kay Ka-Ya Group and the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music Percussion Ensemble. It also featured a moving remembrance of prize founder Dan David, who died last year.

In memoriam

To honor David, an exceptional businessman and champion of global intellectual pursuits, the ceremony began with a memorial, which included a musical tribute by one of the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music's outstanding flautists.

Ariel David
Ariel David

Dan David's son, Ariel David, spoke about his father's legacy and life's work. "I cannot hide how difficult it is to be here after the passing of my father. It's no small comfort for us to see the prize continuing successfully," he said, adding that the interdisciplinary scope of the prize encompassed his father's character, approach to knowledge, and life philosophy in a broader sense. David noted that his father had always been open to new possibilities, recognized potential in others, and tried to help them develop this potential.

TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter said that the prize, which celebrates Dan David's passion for education, would continue to encourage excellence. He would have been proud of this year's winners, Prof. Klafter said.

Laureates donate 10% of their prize money towards 20 TAU scholarships for outstanding doctoral and post-doctoral students from all over the world.

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