The Long Road To Renown: The 2015 Vilcek Foundation Prizes
Prashant Nair and Jan Vilcek, The FASEB Journal
“Sometimes the eye sees what the mind mistrusts,
Sometimes there is a green too green for belief.”
—Shara McCallum (American poet, born in Jamaica)


In the first decades of the 20th century, American scientists studying and working overseas outnumbered foreign scientists working in the United States. But after World War II, the United States began its rise toward global scientific leadership, partly because of an influx of scientists fleeing Nazism or Communism and partly because the country largely escaped the ravages of war. The United States soon became a magnet for foreign students and trainees; many who arrived stayed, strengthening the country’s scientific establishment.

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The goal set forth by the founders of the Vilcek Prize is to recognize contributions of immigrant biomedical scientists in the United States. The year 2015 marks the prize’s 10th anniversary. Over the last decade, 11 researchers have received the Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science. Of these, 7 were born in Europe, 3 were born in Asia, and 1 was born in South America.

To recognize a younger generation of outstanding foreign-born scientists, the Vilcek Foundation began awarding Annual Prizes for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science in 2009; applicants for these prizes must be no more than 38 years of age. Since 2013, 3 winners are chosen every year. Among a total of 13 young recipients of these prizes, 7 were born in Asia, 5 were from Europe, and 1 was born in New Zealand. Although the average age at which biomedical scientists begin an independent career has steadily drifted upward, the accomplishments of the young prize winners are striking.

The Vilcek Foundation Prizes are the only major prizes earmarked for foreign-born scientists. Concomitantly, the Foundation honors an equal number of exceptional foreign-born artists active in the United States in a range of fields of endeavor, including literature, visual arts, culinary arts, and fashion. This year, the Vilcek Prizes once again bear witness to the wealth of immigrant talent this country is fortunate to possess: The 2015 awardees in biomedical science are Peter Walter, recipient of the Vilcek Prize, and Sun Hur, Franziska Michor, and Rob Knight, recipients of the Creative Promise Prizes.

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