The Frontiers of Knowledge Awards arrive in Bilbao, “City of Science and Culture”

On 17 and 18 June, Bilbao will host the gala concert and presentation ceremony of the Frontiers of Knowledge Awards. In the lead-up to this celebration of science and culture, the streets of the Bizkaia capital have been decorated with posters announcing the arrival of these international awards bestowed by the BBVA Foundation.

1 March, 2019


The annual ceremony of the Frontiers of Knowledge Awards has relocated to Bilbao for this eleventh and subsequent editions. The presentation event, held till now in the BBVA Foundation’s Madrid headquarters, will take place on 18 June in the city’s Euskalduna Conference Centre, which will also be the venue for the previous evening’s concert in honor of laureates, performed by the Basque National Orchestra.

A giant advertising canvas in Bilbao’s Plaza Circular, and the scores of banners decorating its main streets bear the legend “Bilbao, city of science and culture, home to the Frontiers of Knowledge Awards,” announcing the imminent arrival of the BBVA Foundation’s international prizes recognizing world-class research and cultural creation.

At the Foundation’s Bilbao headquarters in the historic Plaza de San Nicolás, another canvas refers to the Frontiers of Knowledge Awards with the words “12 laureates with a shared goal: to improve people’s lives and conserve the planet through science and culture.”

Established in 2008, the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards, funded with 400,000 euros in each of their eight categories, number among the world’s foremost award families, distinguishing fundamental contributions and the people behind them across a broad range of disciplines and fields characteristic of the knowledge map of the late 20th century and the present day.

Seven Nobel Prize winners

One external indicator of the excellence of the awards is that seven Frontiers of Knowledge laureates have gone on to win the Nobel Prize: Shinya Yamanaka and James P. Allison, winners in the Biomedicine category of the awards, received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2012 and 2018 respectively, while Robert J. Lefkowitz, Frontiers laureate in Biomedicine, obtained the Chemistry Nobel in 2012. In Economics, Finance and Management, three Frontiers awardees have gone on to take the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences: Lars Peter Hansen, Nobel laureate in 2013; Jean Tirole, in 2014, and Angus Deaton, in 2015. Finally, William Nordhaus followed up his Frontiers Award in Climate Change with the Nobel in Economics, both in 2018.

After these first ten years, the BBVA Foundation wishes to lend new impetus to the social projection of the Frontiers Awards, by giving the various formal and celebratory events a stable home in the Basque Country, concretely Bilbao. “Bilbao represents BBVA’s roots, and shares with us a spirit of openness and a global outlook anchored on a strong culture of knowledge, art and innovation. With the siting of the Frontiers Awards events in Bilbao, the city will be host to a celebration of knowledge that features leading world figures in diverse areas of science, technology and the arts,” declared the Foundation’s President, Carlos Torres Vila.

Over a number of decades, BBVA and its Foundation have participated in the knowledge and cultural ecosystem of the Basque Country in general, and Bilbao in particular, through recurrent partnerships with some of the region’s leading institutions: among them, the Guggenheim Museum, the University of the Basque Country, the University of Deusto, the Museo de Belles Arts de Bilbao, the Bilbao Friends of the Opera Association (ABAD/LOBE) and the Basque National Orchestra. This ecosystem is therefore a natural space for the development and projection of the Frontiers of Knowledge Awards, one of the flagship programs of the BBVA Foundation.

“The attributes of the awards (knowledge, innovation, art, excellence, and openness to the global society) are also characteristics of the Basque society in which BBVA has its origins and markers of identity. We wish to permanently link the Frontiers Awards to Bilbao, symbolizing the city’s status as a center of knowledge,” added the BBVA Foundation President.

Awardees in this edition

The Frontiers of Knowledge laureates in this eleventh edition are, in Basic Sciences, physicists Charles L. Kane and Eugene Mele “for their discovery of topological insulators, a new class of materials with extraordinary electronic properties that behave as conductors on the surface, but insulators in their interior,” in the words of the award committee.

In Biology and Biomedicine, the award has gone to American scientist Jeffrey I. Gordon,“for his fundamental discovery of the importance of the gut microbial community to human health,” says the committee, adding that his work in this field has opened up a whole new area of basic research.

The award in Information and Communication Technologies has been granted to American computer engineer Ivan Sutherland, for “pioneering the move from text-based to graphical computer displays,” the committee’s citation states.

In Ecology and Conservation Biology, winners Gretchen Cara Daily and Georgina Mace are described as “visionary” ecologists who have developed “tools and policies to combat species loss” based on robust scientific criteria.

In Climate Change, the committee recognized Anny Cazenave, John A. Church and Jonathan Gregory, citing their “outstanding contributions to detecting, understanding and projecting the response of global and regional sea level to anthropogenic climate change.”

The award in Economics, Finance and Management has gone to American professor Claudia Goldin,for her groundbreaking contributions to the historical analysis of the role of women in the economy, and her analysis of the reasons behind gender inequality.”

This was also the first year of the category of Humanities and Social Sciences – with the award alternating annually between these two domains, starting with the Humanities. The inaugural winner is Noam Chomsky, whom the committee has recognized “for his unparalleled contributions to the study of human language.”

In Music and Opera, the committee bestowed the award on American composer and conductor John Adams, whom it described as writing “music that is genuinely of our time, and always has been, from the late 20th into the 21st century.”

About the Frontiers of Knowledge Awards

The goal of the Frontiers of Knowledge Awards is to recognize the fundamental contributions made by science and culture to the individual and collective wellbeing of all members of society. The name of the scheme is intended to denote not only cutting-edge research that substantially enlarges the scope of our current knowledge – pushing forward the frontiers of the known world – but also the meeting and overlap of different disciplinary areas. These are also the awards whose architecture is most congruent with the knowledge map of the 21st century: alongside Basic Sciences, categories are reserved for BiomedicineInformation and Communication TechnologiesEconomicsHumanities and Social SciencesMusic, and two categories addressing key facets of the environment: Ecology and Conservation Biology and Climate Change. In these last two areas, they are also the awards of reference at global level.

The eight international committees deciding the awards are formed by internationally reputed experts, who deliberate independently applying the indicators and metrics of excellence proper to the subject area. Nominations are received each year from many of the world’s most prestigious academic research and artistic institutions, and in most categories number from 50 to 60 per award edition.

From the outset, the BBVA Foundation has been accompanied in this enterprise by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), the country’s premier research organization, which participates in both nominee pre-assessment and the appointment of the award committees, whose chair it designates. This partnership will be reinforced as of the next edition through the involvement of the University of the Basque Country and other Basque research and cultural centers.