Knowledge -- the free access to it and the unhindered dissemination of it -- was in the spotlight at the resplendent Dan David Prize ceremony held on May 17th during Tel Aviv University's 2015 Board of Governors meeting. The Dan David Prize, endowed by the Dan David Foundation and administered by the university, is one of the most lucrative and prestigious in the academic world, granted for "proven, exceptional and distinct excellence in the sciences, arts, and humanities that has made an outstanding contribution to humanity."
Presented for "outstanding achievements in the three time dimensions -- Past, Present and Future," the awards carry international recognition as well as three prizes of $1 million, shared this year by six outstanding individuals from different disciplines.
"Once again we are welcoming some of the greatest contributors to the advancement of humanity -- this year in fields that are connected to the way we gain knowledge and share information," Ariel David, the son of the late Dan David and a board member of the Dan David Prize and Dan David Foundation, told an audience of prominent political, business, philanthropic, and academic figures from around the world. "This prize was founded 14 years ago by my father, who stood in wonder of any new technological advancement. Today it carries on his spirit and personality. I wish we could all retain his ability to look at everything with new eyes."
Each year, the Dan David International Board each year chooses different fields of study for Past, Present, and Future categories, and a review committee of scholars and professionals selects those laureates who have made outstanding contributions. Dan David Laureates donate 10% of their $1 million award to a fund for outstanding doctoral and post-doctoral candidates.
Wikipedia and the Information Revolution
Jimmy Wales, cofounder of Wikipedia, the world's first and only non-profit free content Internet encyclopaedia, was the sole winner in the Present category, this year dedicated to "The Information Revolution." Utilized by nearly all Internet users around the world to access information in over 200 languages, Wikipedia is written and edited by a community of hundreds of thousands of users around the world. Speaking at the ceremony, Wales said, "Wikipedia is not one Web site but a broad movement ... to offer every person free access to the sum of all human knowledge, and access to knowledge is a fundamental human right."
"Wales not only explored and stretched the boundaries of collaboration in the digital age, but he also gave every person in the world the opportunity to become explorers of knowledge," TAU President Prof. Joseph Klafter said in his opening remarks. "And exploration is the name of the game."
New windows on the past
The Past category was devoted to "Retrieving the Past: Historians and Their Sources," the work of oral historians seeking to learn how facts interact with perception. Laureates Prof. Peter R. Brown, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University's Department of History, and Prof. Alessandro Portelli, Professor Emeritus at Universita di Roma "La Sapienza," have spent their lives exploring the interaction between private and collective memory, reshaping the way social and cultural change is understood.
Prof. Portelli is best known for his book The Order Has Been Carried Out, about the massacre of 355 Jewish and non-Jewish civilians by Nazis in a Roman suburb in 1944, an event etched in Italian collective consciousness.
Prof. Brown was honored for creating an entire new field of historical study: Late Antiquity, the period between the second and eighth centuries, long considered a historical gap separating the decline of the Roman Empire from the Middle Ages. Prof. Brown single-handedly transformed what was considered the Dark Ages into a period now known for flourishing creativity, struggle and innovation.
The information of the future
The Future category showcased "Bioinformatics" -- the collection and analysis of biochemical and biological information using computers -- and its laureates included Prof. Michael Waterman, Dr. Cyrus Chothia and Prof. David Haussler, all pioneers in the field. Prof. Waterman, a professor of biological sciences, mathematics and computer science at the University of Southern California, is considered one of the founders of computational biology; he developed the main algorithms used today in DNA sequencing. Dr. Chothia, of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, U.K., "pioneered the understanding of relationships between protein sequences and protein structure, function and interactions" -- the fundamental basis for much of structural bioinformatics. Prof. Haussler, the Biomolecular Engineering and Scientific Director of the Genomic Institute at University of California, Santa Cruz, was honored for leading the Human Genome Project, which first mapped the entirety of a human being's DNA. Today, he is part of the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health, which is seeking to create a framework for shared genetic information.
"This shared information can be extremely helpful already in fighting diseases like cancer," said Prof. Haussler. "For the first time, we can actually read the DNA in the cancer cells and know what we're up against. That's already leading to all kinds of exciting creative ideas on how to cure cancer."
Prof. Waterman, accepting the Future category award on behalf of all three laureates, said, "We caught the transformation of biology from mostly a descriptive subject to an information rich science. Our research was not then in any hot - topics category - we simply found fascinating problems that were irresistible and we were determined to pursue them. We greatly appreciate the Dan David Foundation and Tel Aviv University for choosing Bioinformatics as the area for the award and we are deeply honored to be the awardees."
The Dan David Award ceremony also featured several colorful performances by the Mayumana Group, gifted percussion artists from around the world.
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