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Nemmers Prizes Announced

Prizes are among largest U.S. monetary awards for achievements in respective fields

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April 16, 2012 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel

• Economist Daron Acemoglu is recognized for answering big questions, such as why nations fail, and taking on issues of global poverty.

• Ingrid Daubechies is honored as one of the foremost applied mathematicians of our time. 

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Daron Acemoglu, the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Ingrid Daubechies, the James B. Duke Professor of Mathematics at Duke University, are the recipients of the 2012 Nemmers prizes in economics and mathematics, respectively.

Northwestern University announced the recipients of the 2012 Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics and the 2012 Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics today.

Each of the prizes carries a $200,000 stipend, among the largest monetary awards in the United States for outstanding achievements in economics and mathematics. The 2012 prizes mark the 10th time Northwestern has awarded the two prizes and the fourth time the amount of the stipend has been increased.

The Nemmers prizes are given in recognition of major contributions to new knowledge or the development of significant new modes of analysis. Five out of 10 Nemmers economics prize winners have gone on to win a Nobel prize. (Those who already have won a Nobel prize are ineligible to receive a Nemmers prize.)

The 2012 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition will be announced soon; and in 2013, for the first time ever, Northwestern also will award the Methchild Esser Nemmers Prize in Medical Science, with a $200,000 stipend.

“Discoveries and innovations in the medical field in recent years truly are astounding, and we greatly look forward to awarding the first Nemmers prize in medical science,” said Northwestern Provost Daniel Linzer.

“It is an extraordinary privilege for Northwestern to award the Nemmers prizes to individuals whose contributions are making such a big difference in their respective fields,” he said.

“Ingrid Daubechies is one of the foremost applied mathematicians of our time, and her passion for educating the world about the importance of mathematics has no bounds,” Linzer said. “And Daron Acemoglu, one of the most cited economists in the world, does work that is relevant to a number of the most important questions facing the world today.”

In connection with the awards, Acemoglu and Daubechies will deliver public lectures and participate in other scholarly activities at Northwestern during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years.


Daron Acemoglu 

Acemoglu’s award of the 2012 Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics is “for fundamental contributions to the understanding of political institutions, technical change and economic growth.”

He is an extremely productive economist whose work is motivated by real-world questions that arise when facts are difficult to reconcile with existing theory. Acemoglu’s research covers a wide range of areas within economics, including political economy, economic development and growth, human capital theory, growth theory, innovation, search theory and network economics and learning.  His work has propelled him to the frontier of each of the variety of fields he has explored and he has been especially innovative in his most recent area of study dealing with the role of institutions in the political and economic development of nations. 

His latest book, “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty” (with James A. Robinson), is receiving great acclaim. The authors argue that bad institutions are the reason nations fail. Countries with governments that extend political and property rights as broadly as possible, while enforcing laws and providing some public infrastructure, experience the greatest growth over the long run, according to the book. Getting the economics right requires getting the politics right, Acemoglu insists. 

In a recent column, The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman referred to “Why Nations Fail” as a “fascinating new book,” writing that Acemoglu and Robinson’s “core point is that countries thrive when they build political and economic institutions that ‘unleash,’ empower and protect the full potential of each citizen to innovate, invest and develop.” 

“Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy,” another book by Acemoglu and Robinson, received a number of awards, including the Association of American Publishers Award of Excellence in Professional Scholarly Publishing, in Economics and Finance. Acemoglu also is the author of a book titled “Introduction to Modern Economic Growth.”

His academic work has been published in leading scholarly journals, including the American Economic Review and Econometrica, of which he is the editor. 

Among his numerous honors, Acemoglu is the recipient of the 2005 John Bates Clark Medal, awarded to an American economist in the United States under the age of 40 who is judged to have made the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge. He is a member of the Economic Growth program of the Canadian Institute of Advanced Research and is affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research. And he has given numerous seminars and keynote addresses at universities around the world. 


Ingrid Daubechies

Daubechies was awarded the 2012 Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics “for her numerous and lasting contributions to applied and computational analysis and for the remarkable impact her work has had across engineering and the sciences.” 

Daubechies is the academic leader in the broad area of theoretical signal processing. She is world-renowned for her many pioneering contributions to the theory and application of wavelets and filter-banks.

Her work on wavelets had a profound impact on the extensive field of mathematical research known as computational harmonic analysis.  It found powerful applications in the areas of data compression, compressed sensing and digital communications, and it has an impact on a wide range of scientific disciplines.

The influence of her work is realized daily in millions of consumer and technological products, including communication systems, medical imaging, seismic exploration and audio and video coders. 

Daubechies’ more recent research has focused on discrete geometry, a field which uses very different methods from those in which she has previously worked; this work is motivated by real world problems in computer animation and biology.

Among her numerous honors, she received the National Academy of Sciences Award in Mathematics in 2000, for her fundamental discoveries on wavelets that are among the most significant in the history of mathematics. She also was a fellow of the MacArthur Foundation between 1992 and 1997 and, in 1993, was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In 1994 she received the American Mathematical Society Steele Prize for Exposition for her book “Ten Lectures on Wavelets.” In 1997 she was awarded the AMS Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize in Mathematics, and in 1998 she was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. 

Between 2004 and 2011 Daubechies was the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor in the mathematics and applied mathematics departments at Princeton (and was the first ever female professor of mathematics at Princeton).


Background on Nemmers prizes

The Nemmers prizes are made possible through bequests from the late Erwin Esser Nemmers, a former member of the Northwestern University faculty, and his brother, the late Frederic E. Nemmers, both of Milwaukee. The prizes are awarded every other year.

Erwin Nemmers, who persuaded his brother to join him in making a substantial contribution to Northwestern, served as a member of the faculty of the Kellogg School of Management from 1957 until his retirement in 1986. He and Frederic Nemmers were principals in a Milwaukee-based, family-owned, church music publishing house.

Their gifts, totaling $14 million, were designated by Erwin and Frederic Nemmers for the establishment of four endowed professorships in the Kellogg School of Management and the establishment of the Nemmers prizes.

Consistent with the terms of the Nemmers’ bequests, the Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics (named in honor of the Nemmers’ father) and the Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics (named by Erwin in honor of his brother) are designed to recognize “work of lasting significance” in the respective disciplines. Awarded for the first time in 2006, the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Musical Composition also is awarded every other year, with a value of $100,000.

Previous Nemmers prize recipients in economics are Peter A. Diamond (1994), Thomas J. Sargent (1996), Robert J. Aumann (1998), Daniel L. McFadden (2000), Edward C. Prescott (2002), Ariel Rubinstein (2004), Lars Peter Hansen (2006), Paul R. Milgrom (2008) and Elhanan Helpman (2010).

Previous Nemmers prize recipients in mathematics are Yuri I. Manin (1994), Joseph B. Keller (1996), John H. Conway (1998), Edward Witten (2000), Yakov G. Sinai (2002), Mikhael Gromov (2004), Robert P. Langlands (2006), Simon Donaldson (2008) and Terence Chi-Shen Tao (2010).

Previous Nemmers prize recipients in music are John Adams (2004), Oliver Knussen (2006), Kaija Saariaho (2008) and John Luther Adams (2010).