W. M. Keck Foundation Grantees win Nobel Prizes in Physics & Chemistry

Congratulations to Keck Foundation grantees on winning the Nobel Prize!

Dr. Andrea Ghez

Keck grantee, Dr. Andrea Ghez of UCLA, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in October for her discoveries related to black holes, regions of space so dense that nothing can escape their gravitational pull. This is doubly exciting for the Foundation, as Dr. Ghez conducts her research on the Keck Telescopes at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

Early in her career at UCLA, Professor Ghez helped develop adaptive optics, which allows astronomers to correct the distorting effects of the Earth's atmosphere and better understand a region called Sagittarius A* at the center of our galaxy.  Her research in the 1990s showing that a supermassive compact object exists within Sagittarius A* answered a question of great debate among astronomers and tested Albert Einstein's iconic general theory of relativity.

In 2011, the W. M. Keck Foundation awarded a $1 Million grant to UCLA for Dr. Ghez to optimize those adaptive optics by greatly improving their measurement capabilities.  Then in 2016, we made another $1 Million grant to Dr. Ghez and her team to develop new computational approaches allowing integration of their observations over three decades.

Professor Ghez shares this year's prize with Roger Penrose of the University of Oxford, and Reinhard Genzel of UC Berkeley and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics.


Dr. Jennifer Doudna

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to Keck grantee Dr. Jennifer Doudna for the development of a method for genome editing.  She shares this year's prize with Emmanuelle Charpentier.

With CRISPR-Cas9 genetic scissors, researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants and micro-organisms with extremely high precision.  The CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tools have revolutionized the molecular life sciences, brought new opportunities for plant breeding, are contributing to innovative cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true, according to a press release from the Nobel committee.

In 2015, the W. M. Keck Foundation awarded a $1 Million grant to UC Berkeley for Dr. Doudna and her team to develop a nanowire platform that can deliver genome engineering machinery into primary human immune cells.  In her final report, Doudna acknowledged that nanowires proved to be of limited efficiency for CRISPR-Cas9 delivery to cells.  Instead, application of electric fields proved to be more effective and, with this Keck funding, the team optimized the electric field delivery system for cell genome engineering.  Recently, Dr. Doudna emphasized to the Foundation that, "Our team's work on the project catalyzed an ongoing group working on genome editing delivery to human immune cells and other cell types.... Without funding for the risky (unsafe) bet, we would still be stuck years behind the curve."


Drs Ghez and Doudna brings the total number of Nobel laureates the W. M. Keck Foundation has funded to eight.