A polar scientist, a robotic suit designer and an eye specialist who wants to save millions of people from going blind are among 10 innovators from around the world who have won Rolex Awards in the 40th anniversary year of the programme.
Other winners have projects as diverse as technology to stop hunger and conservation initiatives to save species and habitats.
The 10 Laureates and Young Laureates were recognised at a public awards ceremony in Los Angeles last week.
The Rolex Awards are an international philanthropic programme that supports new and ongoing projects by individuals taking on major challenges to benefit mankind. It has served as a benchmark for corporate philanthropy the world over for four decades.
The six men and four women were chosen by an international Jury of 12 eminent experts who selected them after meeting with the finalists who had been shortlisted from among 2,322 applicants representing 144 nationalities.
Each Laureate receives CHF 100,000 and each Young Laureate CHF 50,000 to advance their project. All receive a Rolex chronometer and worldwide publicity.
The five Rolex Laureates honoured at the ceremony are:
Andrew BASTAWROUS, 36, United Kingdom – is an ophthalmologist whose team’s smartphone-based portable eye examination system, Peek Vision, is radically changing eye care in sub-Saharan Africa and other resource-poor settings. Working in partnerships, trained lay people such as teachers or community volunteers can screen for vision problems, blindness and other eye diseases, enabling accurate diagnosis and treatment. Bastawrous and his team will set up a centre of excellence for Peek training and learning in Kitale, Kenya.
Kerstin FORSBERG, 32, Peru – is a biologist protecting giant manta rays by helping fishermen pursue ecotourism as an alternative income source and training them alongside ecotourists to collect data on the distribution and abundance of this species. Forsberg will work with local communities to raise awareness and appreciation of giant mantas through outreach programmes that creatively combine the use of science and education.
Vreni HÄUSSERMANN, 46, Chile/Germany – is exploring Chilean Patagonia’s fjords to document the unknown and unique life at the bottom of the sea at three remote areas by combining exploration and science in an attempt to create support for conservation through public outreach. She is also raising awareness about the damaging effects of current human activities on marine ecosystems to engage the public and decision-makers in setting up a science-based network of marine protected areas.
Conor WALSH, 35, Ireland – is a mechanical and biomedical engineer, based at Harvard University in the US, who is tackling the mobility problems of stroke sufferers and others by developing a soft robotic suit that can be worn under clothes and will enable physically impaired people to walk without assistance. Expected to be ready in about three years, after clinical trials and regulatory approval, his “exosuit” will analyse and gradually train muscles, limbs and joints back into healthy patterns of movement.
Sonam WANGCHUK, 50, India – is a Ladakhi engineer who is solving the problem of a lack of water for agriculture in the desert landscapes of the western Himalayas by building “ice stupas”. Named after Buddhist monuments, these conical ice mounds behave like mini articial glaciers, slowly releasing water in the growing season. He intends to build up to 20 ice stupas, each 30 metres high and capable of supplying millions of litres of water. A long-term aim is to build an alternative university and engage youth in the environment.
In light of the growing number of achievers under the age of 30 who are tackling today’s challenges with fervour, Rolex began a Young Laureates segment of the Enterprise Awards programme in 2010 to encourage younger pioneers at a critical stage of their careers and help them bring innovative ideas to fruition.
The five Young Laureates announced at the Los Angeles ceremony are:
Joseph COOK, 29, United Kingdom – is a pioneer in the field of glacial microbiology who, through his Ice Alive mission, is exploring polar ice microbes in the vast “frozen rainforest” of the Greenland ice sheet and communicating how these microbes influence climate, nutrient and carbon cycles, and other aspects of our world and its systems.
Oscar EKPONIMO, 30, Nigeria – is addressing the problems of food poverty through Chowberry, a cloud-based application that automates the monitoring of food products approaching the end of shelf-life and generates notifications to food retailers, allowing them to offer discounts to charities, and ultimately helping to alleviate hunger in the country.
Christine KEUNG, 24, United States – emigrated to the US at the age of four and is using her education as a force for good by empowering women in north-western China, where her family originated, to work with doctors and industry to reduce water and soil pollution and act as environmental stewards and agents of change.
Junto OHKI, 29, Japan – is improving communication among hearing-impaired people worldwide by expanding a crowdsourced, online sign-language database dictionary called SLinto, which will bridge the gap between the 126 extant sign languages and become a global platform for all existing and new signs.
Sarah TOUMI, 29, France/Tunisia – is spearheading a grass-roots initiative, Acacias for All, in Tunisia, to fight the country’s desertification caused by climate change and reduce poverty among farmers through reforestation and crops more suited to a lower rainfall. She also runs a non-governmental organization to help women and youth realize their potential.
The 2016 winners become part of the community of the Rolex Laureates and Associate Laureates who have helped to reshape the world in the 40 years since the Awards were created. Tonight’s 40th anniversary celebration in Los Angeles acknowledges the catalytic impact that they have made on their communities and beyond.