Canadians win prestigious Kyoto Prize for 1st time

A leading Toronto scientist and a Montreal-based philosopher have been awarded the prestigious Kyoto Prizes, Japan's equivalent of the Nobel Prizes.

Toronto scientist Anthony Pawson, Montreal philosopher Charles Taylor honoured

A leading Toronto scientist and a Montreal-based philosopher have been awarded the prestigious Kyoto Prizes, Japan's equivalent of the Nobel Prizes.

Dr. Anthony Pawson, 55, and Charles Taylor, 76, are the first Canadians to receive the prizes, awarded Friday by the Inamori Foundation of Kyoto, Japan. An American computer scientist also won the prize.

Pawson, a world-renowned cell biologist with the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital, has been recognized for his work on how human cells communicate with one another. His work has furthered the understanding of a number of diseases, including cancer, diabetes and immune disorders.

"It is a real endorsement of the importance of fundamental scientific discovery in the fight against diseases such as cancer, and it is particularly exciting to see Canadian biomedical research being recognized by such a prestigious award," Pawson said in a news release.

Taylor, co-author of a report last year studying the social accommodation of minorities in Quebec, was named Kyoto Prize laureate in arts and philosophy.

He is being recognized for his development of a social philosophy designed to help people from diverse backgrounds coexist peacefully.

He was made a companion of the Order of Canada in 2000 and last year won the Templeton Prize, which includes a cash award of $1.5 million US.

California-based computer scientist Richard Karp won the prize in advanced technology for his work in measuring how difficult certain computational problems are to solve — a fundamental step in designing computer algorithms.

Winners to get $470K Cdn

The winners will each be presented with a diploma, a 20-karat gold Kyoto Prize medal and $470,000 Cdn at a ceremony Nov. 10 in Kyoto.

The award is the latest in a series of honours for Pawson, who was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2006.

That same year, the Queen named him to the Order of the Companions of Honour; he is one of only nine Canadians to have received that distinction. He has also received the Gairdner Foundation International Award.

The author of more than 340 scholarly publications, Pawson was an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia from 1981 to 1985. In 1985 he joined the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, where he served as director of research from 2002 to 2005. In 2006, the Lunenfeld named him a distinguished scientist.

The Kyoto Prize is an international award honouring significant contributions to the scientific, cultural and spiritual betterment of humankind. It is awarded annually to recipients working in advanced technology, basic sciences, arts and philosophy. A prize for life sciences is awarded once every four years.

Candidates for the Kyoto Prize are nominated by international experts from Japan and other countries.

Previous Kyoto Prize laureates include:

  • Renowned primatologist Jane Goodall.
  • American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.
  • Linguist and critical thinker Noam Chomsky.