Plants and particles win Turlings and Shchutska top Swiss science awards
17 Sep 2023
Biologist Ted Turlings and physicist Lesya Shchutska are this year’s winners of the the two highest awards in Swiss Science, the Marcel Benoist and Latsis prizes.
Dutchman Turlings was awarded the Benoist and with it CHF250,000, for his discoveries in plant communication. Dubbed the Swiss Nobel Prize, some 11 of its laureates have gone on to win the Nobel in various fields.
Ukrainian Shchutska wins the Latsis prize worth CHF100,000 for her key research into particle science, aimed at expanding the Standard Model of particle physics.
The duo will formally receive their awards in Bern on 30 October in a joint ceremony.
Speaking after the news was announced, Turlings commented: “This award is a great honour. It acknowledges the work of many years spent alongside extremely competent colleagues and the type of research we are conducting.”
Currently based at the University of Neuchâtel, his work produced the discovery in 1990 that plants defended themselves against pests by responding to a substance in the attacker’s saliva, producing odours designed to attract the creature’s own predators.
The research created the potential to develop so-called ‘biological control’ alternatives to traditional pesticides, offering sustainable means to combat insect predation capable to destroying up to 40% of all global crop yields.
Added Turlings: “Today’s approach to food production is a major factor in climate change and environmental problems. We have what it takes to do better, and science has an important role to play.”
Commenting on her win on the Latsis prize website, Shchutska was modest about her qualification for receiving the honour: “I am delighted to receive the Latsis Prize. I’m also surprised, though – given that I haven’t made a major discovery in particle physics.
“Since the existence of the Higgs boson was discovered in 2012, there is no longer really any theory left to verify in particle physics,” she explains.
The judges however cited “her brilliant work in the field of ‘new physics’, and more specifically her research into particles that would expand the Standard Model.”
Currently based at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), Shchutska studied at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, with later postdoctoral research at CERN with the University of Florida.
Awarded since 1920 by the Marcel Benoist Foundation the Benoist Prize is awarded on a rotating basis to three fields of scientific research, with biology and medicine the focus for this year, humanities and social sciences in 2024 and natural sciences in 2025.
The Swiss Science Prize Latsis has been awarded annually since 1984 by the Swiss National Science Foundation on behalf of the Geneva based International Latsis Foundation to a Swiss-based scientist aged under 40.