Recognizing excellence

Feb 20, 2003, vol. 26, no. 4
By Carol Thorbes

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Imre Kertész is a first time novelist whose controversial work has won him a Nobel prize.

Daniel Kahneman is an economist whose receipt of a Nobel prize will help legitimize a controversial field of economics.

They are just two of several 2002 Nobel prize winners whose groundbreaking work will be profiled at Simon Fraser University's second annual lecture series Recognizing Excellence: The Nobels and other prizes.

Sponsored by the faculties of science and arts, the free series aims to build awareness of the extent to which Nobel prize winning accomplishments drive social, political and economic change.

SFU professors in fields mirroring those of the Nobel prize winners will reflect on why their work is deserving of the world's most prestigious award for societal and research feats.

In her lecture April 3, Zita McRobbie (above), an associate professor of linguistics at SFU, will examine why Hungarian writer Imre Kertész' receipt of a Nobel prize for his book Fateless is both lauded and lamented.

Kertész is relatively unknown as a writer in Hungry and his win surprised those who felt more well known writers were more deserving.

But Hungarian born McRobbie notes Kertész' autobiographic look at his life in a Nazi concentration camp as a teenage boy contains “a message with a timeless relevance.”

Jack Knetsch, an emeritus professor of economics at SFU, has a unique perspective on the work of one of two 2002 Nobel prize laureates in economics.

Knetsch collaborated with Daniel Kahneman, now at Princeton University, on several papers about behavioural economics beginning when Kahneman was at the University of British Columbia in the mid-1980s.

Kahneman is a Nobel prize recipient for integrating insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgment and decision making.

Knetsch's lecture April 10 will examine how Kahneman's pioneering discovery, that people tend to value losses more than comparable gains, contradicts conventional economic theory.

“Behavioural economics is still not a well accepted field,” says Knetsch. “Danny's winning the Nobel prize may help change that.”

On March 20, George Agnes will use himself as an example of how Nobel prize winning research can spark an inspirational chain reaction in the lab.

As a doctoral student, Agnes' research was inspired by John Fenn, one of the three 2002 Nobel prize recipients in chemistry.

Fenn's, Koichi Tanaka's and Kurt Wüthrich's independent discoveries have provided science with technologies to measure the mass of biological compounds such as proteins.

“The study of these compounds, their distribution in healthy versus abnormal tissue,” says Agnes, “is offering unprecedented insight into disease.”

SFU professor and Canada Research Chair in information technology Jonathan Borwein will look at establishment of the Abel prize, the equivalent of the Nobel prize in mathematics.

On March 13, as well as speculating about whom the inaugural winner will be, Borwein will reflect on the politics and significance of the 2002 International Congress of Mathematicians being held in Beijing.

The series' lectures will be held on seven consecutive Thursdays, March 6 to April 17, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Harbour Centre.

For information on the lectures visit and click on upcoming events.

To reserve a seat contact SFU continuing studies at 604-291-5100.

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