The University of Chicago News Office
June 20, 2003 Press Contact: Steve Koppes
(773) 702-8366

University of Chicago physicist receives Kyoto Prize for lifetime achievements in science

    Additional Resources:

Print-quality Photo:

University of Chicago Professors celebrate the announcement that Eugene Parker, the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Astronomy & Astrophysics, will receive the Kyoto Prize for Lifetime Achievements in Basic Science next November in Japan.

2003 Kyoto Prize Laureates Background Information (pdf)

The Inamori Foundation today announced that the University of Chicago’s Eugene Parker will receive the 2003 Kyoto Prize for Lifetime Achievements in Basic Science. Considered among the world’s leading awards for lifetime achievement, the $400,000 Kyoto Prizes recognize significant contributions to the scientific, cultural and spiritual development of mankind.

Parker, 76, the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor in Physics and Astronomy & Astrophysics, will be cited for establishing a new perspective on astrophysics by elucidating the solar wind and other cosmic phenomena. “I’m still trying to get used to the idea,” Parker said. “It’s a tremendous honor.”

Parker said his career has been full of scientific surprises. “It’s been great fun. You let nature, in the form of astronomy, tell you what’s happening, and then you sit there and try to figure out why, and sometimes you can and sometimes you still don’t know enough to figure out why.”

Also named as Kyoto Prize laureates this year are Harvard University Professor George Whitesides, 63, and Bunraku puppet master Tamao Yoshida, 84, of Osaka, Japan.

Whitesides, a chemist, will receive the Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology for pioneering a technique of organic molecular self-assembly and its applications in the field of nanomaterials science. Yoshida, a master of Bunraku puppetry, a classical Japanese performance art, will receive the Kyoto Prize for Arts and Philosophy. The prize will go to Yoshida for his significant contributions to Bunraku’s current status as the world’s most highly refined form of puppet theater.

Each laureate will receive a diploma, a Kyoto Prize Medal of 20-karat gold and a cash gift of 50 million yen (approximately $400,000) at the Kyoto Prize Ceremony on Monday, Nov. 10. In addition, the laureates will convene in San Diego, Calif., March 3 through 5, 2004, for the third annual Kyoto Laureate Symposium at the University of San Diego.

“Today, we are rushing ahead with incredible scientific and technological achievements, while understanding of our emotional and psychological development lags deplorably,” said Kazuo Inamori, founder and president of The Inamori Foundation. “It is my hope that the Kyoto Prizes will encourage balanced development of both our scientific and our spiritual sides, and hence provide new impetus toward the structuring of new philosophical paradigms.”

The 2003 Kyoto Prize for Basic Science was chosen from the fields of earth and planetary sciences and astronomy and astrophysics. In 1958, Parker made a theoretical prediction of a supersonic flow of plasmas (charged particles) emitted from the solar corona, which he called the “solar wind.”

“The opposition to the solar wind was vociferous,” Parker said. But several years later, the solar wind’s existence was proven through direct satellite observation, which made it possible to expound the mechanisms of magnetic storms, auroras and other solar-terrestrial phenomena. “All of a sudden, everybody always knew there had been a solar wind,” he said.

Having shown that the space between the sun and the Earth is filled with this supersonic flow—and not a vacuum, as had been believed—Parker’s theory triggered drastic changes in the perception of space. In addition, Parker has studied cosmical magnetohydrodynamics, the dynamics of gas and magnetic fields in space over scales of approximately a mile. He applied cosmical magnetohydrodynamics to the development of the Dynamo Theory and what has come to be known as the Parker Instability. These have helped elucidate a broad range of phenomena involving fixed stars, the interstellar medium and the galaxy, creating a new perception of space physics.

His book, Cosmical Magnetic Fields — Their Origin and Activity (1979), comprises the vast body of his many years of research findings. Regarded as the bible of cosmic magnetohydrodynamics, it is quoted authoritatively to this day in scientific papers within that discipline. He is himself the author of more than 300 scientific papers.

The Inamori Foundation was established in 1984 by Kazuo Inamori, Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Kyocera Corporation. The Kyoto Prizes were founded in 1985, in line with Inamori’s belief that man has no higher calling than to strive for the greater good of society, and that mankind’s future can be assured only when there is a balance between scientific progress and spiritual depth.

As of January 2003 the Kyoto Prize has been awarded to 60 laureates from 12 nations. The laureates range from scientists, engineers and researchers to architects, sculptors and film directors. The United States has produced the most recipients, with 25 laureates, followed by the United Kingdom (nine), France (seven) and Japan (seven).
Last modified at 04:29 PM CST on Monday, June 23, 2003.

University of Chicago News Office
5801 South Ellis Avenue - Room 200
Chicago, Illinois 60637-1473
(773) 702-8360
Fax: (773) 702-8324
Contact Us