Peter and Rosemary Grant win Balzan Prize

Sept. 8, 2005 10:42 p.m.

Peter and Rosemary Grant of Princeton's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology have been selected to receive the Balzan Prize for their work in population biology.

The International Balzan Foundation annually awards four prizes for scientific and academic excellence. Each prize is valued at 1 million Swiss francs (about $800,000), and winners are expected to earmark half of the money for future projects to be carried out by young researchers. The award ceremony will take place on Friday, Nov. 11, in the Swiss Houses of Parliament in Bern.

The Grants were selected for "their remarkable long-term studies demonstrating evolution in action in Galapagos finches," according to the foundation. "The work of the Grants has had a seminal influence in the fields of population biology, evolution and ecology. It is generally regarded as the most significant study of evolutionary change in the field that has been carried out in the last 30 years."

Peter Grant is the Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology and Rosemary Grant is a senior research biologist at Princeton. For three decades, the married couple have traveled to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of South America to study the various species of finch that influenced Charles Darwin when formulating his theory of evolution. The Grants conduct research on how the finches have changed as a result of dramatic climatic differences.

Both are interested in the interplay of genetics, ecology and behavior, and especially in the question of why and when one species separates into two. In 1991, their joint publication, "Evolutionary Dynamics of a Natural Population: The Large Cactus Finch of the Galapagos," earned the Wildlife Publication Award of the Wildlife Society. They also received the E.O. Wilson Prize of the American Society of Naturalists in 1998, the Darwin Medal of the Royal Society of London in 2002 and the Grinnell Award of the University of California-Berkeley in 2003.

The Grants are members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the General Assembly of the Charles Darwin Foundation.

Since 1961, 106 scientists, scholars, artists and institutions have been honored with the Balzan Prize, including Mother Teresa, the Nobel Foundation and Paul Hindemith. Previous Princeton winners include Charles Gillispie, the Dayton Stockton Professor of History Emeritus, and Anthony Grafton, the Henry Putnam University Professor of History.