Preceding the public events was the invitation-only World Science Summit on May 28, 2008; New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg opened the Festival. At the summit, an invited audience interacted with eminent scientists in several panel discussions. Participants included Nina Federoff (Science and Technology Advisor to U. S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice), biologist David Baltimore and cancer researcher Harold Varmus.
As part of the Summit, the winners of the first Kavli Prizes were announced in a simulcast linking New York City and Oslo. The first Kavli Prize for astrophysics was awarded to Maarten Schmidt and Donald Lynden-Bell for their pioneering work on quasars. Louis E. Brus and Sumio Iijima shared the nanoscience prize for their contributions to the science of quantum dots and carbon nanotubes, respectively. Pasko Rakic, Thomas Jessell and Sten Grillner were awarded the neuroscience prize for their research into how neuronal networks develop and communicate.
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