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Education Updated: 29 Nov 2017

The BBVA Foundation promotes excellence and innovation in the 9th edition of its Frontiers of Knowledge Awards.

The 9th BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Awards have recognized a group of researchers and cultural creators who are distinguished for their excellence. The winners’ contributions are outstanding for their originality and for pushing back the frontiers to open up new areas of knowledge.

Pioneers, influencers, revolutionaries… There are never enough words in each edition to describe the winners of the Frontiers of Knowledge Awards. And this year is no exception. The ecologists Gene E. Likens and Marten Scheffer in the Ecology and Conservation Biology category and the climatologists Syukuro Manabe and James Hansen in Climate Change have been joined by a group of exceptional researchers and cultural creators.

David Cox and Bradley Efron are two brilliant mathematicians from the universities of Oxford and Stanford respectively who have revolutionized statistics. David Cox is the creator of a powerful statistical tool known as the “Cox regression” which is able to calculate, for example, the mortality of a group of people from a particular disease. His technique is used in such diverse areas as cancer research and epidemiology, among others. For his part, Bradley Efron invented a method known as bootstrap to determine the margin of error of a measurement, a key piece of data and science without which the result lacks value.

The prizewinners in Biomedicine are Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer Doudna and Francisco Martínez Mojica for unleashing what the jury called in its statement, “the biological revolution permitted by the CRISPR/Cas 9 techniques”. The tools they have developed are able to modify the genome with unprecedented accuracy and far more simply and cheaply than any previous method. That technology has transcended borders and is being used in laboratories around the world.

Elsewhere, the researchers Pedro Alonso and Peter Myler are the winners of the Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Cooperation for Development category, for their key role in the fight against infectious diseases, which affect millions of people in developing countries and cause hundreds of thousands of deaths, particularly among children. The prizewinners maintain that in spite of the advances it is necessary to promote research in this field: “It is an obligation of advanced societies like Spain to contribute to fighting against these diseases that affect poorer countries. There are solutions, but only if we make the necessary resources available to advance knowledge”, explains Pedro Alonso.

Geoffrey Hinton is a researcher into artificial intelligence who has succeeded in making machines capable of learning, earning him the Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) category. As explained in the jury’s statement, this scientist has achieved a milestone which until recently appeared to come from the realms of science fiction: “His inspiration was how the human brain works and how this knowledge can be applied to endow machines with the capacity to perform complex tasks in the same way humans do”.

The prizewinner in the Economics, Finance and Management category was Daron Acemoglu, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), for his use of an innovative combination of theoretical and empirical analysis to establish the causal effect of institutions on economic development.

The Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Contemporary Music category broke new ground by distinguishing a woman for the first time in its history: the Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina. The jury praised her oeuvre for its “extraordinary musical and human qualities”. The long trajectory of this artist, which she attributes to a predetermined destiny, is distinguished by its spirituality and the transformative capacity of her work: “I did not choose music, but music itself became manifest in me”.