Balzan Prizes honor work in humanities, science

MILAN (AP) — Three Americans were among the winners of this year’s Balzan Prize, announced Monday, for their work in the fields of moral philosophy, musicology and biotechnology.

Martha Nussbaum, a philosopher and scholar at the University of Chicago, won for “her transformative reconception of the goals of social justice, both globally and locally,” the Balzan Foundation said in its citation.

Nussbaum, author of more than 20 books, frequently examines emotions and the role they play in moral and political judgments. Her latest book, “Justice for Animals: Our Collective Responsibility,” is scheduled for publication in December.

Another University of Chicago faculty member, ethnomusicologist Philip Bohlman, was recognized for his work focusing primarily on European and Jewish music. He was cited by the foundation for his exploration of “the interstices between music and religion (and) Jewish music in modernity” as well as for his performance of Jewish urban music.

Bohlman performs both as artistic director of the New Budapest Orpheum Society, and with his wife Christine Wilkie Bohlman presenting works for piano and dramatic speaker written during the Holocaust.

Robert Langer, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, won the biotechnology prize for what the Milan-based Balzan Foundation called pioneering research and advances in mRNA vaccines and tissue engineering, paving the way “for breakthroughs in the controlled release of macromolecules with many medical applications.”

The final prize was shared by Danish palaeoclimatology professor Dorthe Dahl-Jensen of the University of Copenhagen and Dutch climatologist Johannes Oerlemans of the University of Utrecht for glaciation and ice-sheet dynamics. The Balzan citation noted their joint and complementary work on the dynamics of glaciation and ice sheets which has helped to create “more reliable projections of ice sheet behavior related to changes in sea level.”

The Balzan Foundation awards two prizes in the sciences and two in the humanities each year, rotating specialties to highlight new or emerging areas of research and sustain fields that might be overlooked elsewhere. Recipients receive 750,000 Swiss francs ($785,000), half of which must be used for research, preferably by young scholars or scientists.

The prizes will be awarded by Italian President Sergio Mattarella in November in Rome.