The New York City-based has announced the winners of the 2017 , which recognize the contributions of immigrants to American arts and sciences. Each prize includes a $100,000 cash award.
The Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science was awarded jointly to Lily and Yuh-Nung Jan, a husband-and-wife research team born in China and raised in Taiwan who now teach molecular physiology at the and who, over the course of a research career spanning four decades, isolated the gene encoding a protein that shuttles potassium ions across cell membranes, enabling the characterization of a molecular player implicated in functions as vital as maintaining heart rate and controlling muscle movement.
The Vilcek Prize in the Arts, which this year was focused on the fine arts, was awarded to Nari Ward, a Jamaican-born and New York-based visual artist known for found-object assemblage art that invite both public conversations and intimate dialogue on the part of the viewer around topics such as race, immigration, and the Caribbean diaspora identity.
The winners of the Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science were Michaela Gack (Germany), an associate professor at the who has uncovered potential molecular targets for the design of antiviral drugs and vaccines for a range of infectious diseases; Michael Halassa (Jordan), an assistant professor at who, working with mice, has deepened our understanding of how the brain filters sensory noise and sustains attention; and Ahmet Yildiz (Turkey), an associate professor at the who has used his expertise in visualizing molecules found in living cells to uncover the precise mode of action of molecular motors — proteins that ferry cargo along the cellular backbone to support vital functions like neuronal development and cell division.
The foundation also awarded six Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise, which are given to younger immigrants who have shown substantial talent and ability early in their careers. The prizes, which include a $50,000 cash award, were awarded to Iman Issa (Egypt), a conceptual artist who creates objects and installations in an attempt to address complex philosophical questions; Meleko Mokgosi (Botswana), a painter who focuses on careful, well researched depictions of Africa and its people; and Carlos Motta (Colombia), who works in a variety of media to explore questions of identity, sexuality, and politics, and identify and dissect the relations between an individual and the culture that forms them.
"Like all great artists and scientists, these immigrant prize winners challenge our very perceptions of the world," said Vilcek Foundation president Rick Kinsel. "Their works are attempts to understand fundamental questions and concepts in American society, from the neurological underpinnings of the self to the institution of democracy."