21 June 2001
For immediate release
Eminent evolutionary biologist Professor John Maynard Smith is to receive Japan's equivalent of the Nobel Prize for his contribution to science, it was announced this week.
The Kyoto Prize, Japan's highest private award for lifetime achievement, is presented each year to individuals or groups "who have contributed greatly to mankind's scientific, cultural, and spiritual betterment".
In announcing the winners, Japan's Inamori Foundation said: "Professor Maynard Smith has made a groundbreaking contribution to the establishment of a unified understanding of fundamental issues in evolutionary biology, including social activities of organisms and the essence of the evolution of sexual reproduction. He has not only contributed to the development of biological sciences, but he has also had a major impact on other disciplines, including economics and politics."
Professor Maynard Smith, a former dean of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sussex and now emeritus professor, is credited with applying the concept of game theory to biology. Game theory is a mathematical way of analysing competition between individuals. Professor Maynard Smith showed that the highly ritualised behaviour of animals in conflict could also be mapped mathematically and that animals - or plants and micro-organisms - with the best strategies survived. He called this the evolutionary stable strategy (ESS).
At the presentation ceremony in Kyoto on 10 November, Professor Maynard Smith will receive a diploma, a gold medal and prize money of 50 million yen (about £290,000). His ten-day visit also includes meeting Emperor Akihito of Japan.
"I am looking forward to it tremendously," says the 81-year-old academic. "I have never been to Japan. I'd be interested to meet the Emperor who, I gather, is also a biologist. As for the prize money, I think I'll give most of it away and save just a little for some good holidays with my wife Sheila. I'd like to go to South America and China in some comfort."
Professor Maynard Smith, who joined Sussex in 1965, holds honorary doctorates from five universities, including one from Sussex in 1988, and received the prestigious Crafoord Prize (awarded to scientists working in fields not covered by the Nobel Foundation) in 1999.
Although he no longer lectures, Professor Maynard Smith is still busy with research. His current interests include the sex life of bacteria, particularly the new antibiotic-resistant strains, and how animals signal to each other. "I am fascinated by nature and mathematics and I have fun putting the two together," he says.
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