The 2021 Kyoto Prize winners are chemist and technology pioneer Ching Tang, astrophysicist James Gunn and acclaimed stage director Ariane Mnouchkine, pictured here at the latest prize ceremony in Japan. Photo via UCSD

A San Diego event that honors scientists and artists — and sometimes predicts Nobel laureates — will be held online next week when local schools host the Kyoto Prize celebration and lectures.

Usually held as a gala in a downtown San Diego ballroom, the 20th annual Kyoto Prize Symposium will happen pandemic-style with the lectures entirely online March 23-25.

Hosted by UCSD and sponsored in part by Point Loma Nazarene University, the event will give more people a chance to see and hear from some of the world’s top laureates in advanced technology, basic sciences, and arts and humanities.

This year’s Kyoto laureates are:

  • Ariane Mnouchkine, founder and director of Theatre du Soleil, whose innovative work in theater in Paris has resulted in significant productions that deal with historical and political themes. She combines influences from India, Japan and the West to create a new kind of “public theater.” She started her theater 50 years ago in a transformed factory outside of Paris.
  • James Gunn, a professor emeritus in astrophysics from Princeton University, who led the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which produced a three-dimensional map of the cosmos. Some of his early work was with the Palomar Observatory in North San Diego County. Much of what we know about the evolution of the universe is thanks to his discoveries and theories.
  • And Ching Tang, of Hong Kong University and professor emeritus from the University of Rochester, who pioneered work with organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), leading to high-efficiency lighting with low voltage. More well-known applications are in electronic displays such as televisions and other lighting products.

Several Kyoto Prize laureates in the past decade have gone on to win the Nobel Prize. San Diego’s own Walter Munk was a Kyoto Prize laureate in 1999.

Founded by Dr. Kazuo Inamori in 1984 as a major element of the Inamori Foundation, the Kyoto Prize has achieved international stature with the granting of three Kyoto Prizes each year.

Each laureate receives a gold medal, a diploma and 100,000,000 yen (over $900,000) – and normally spends several days in San Diego (in March) and Oxford (in May) after the initial week of ceremonies and programs in Kyoto beginning every Nov. 10.

Since 1984, the Kyoto Prize has been awarded to 111 people from 17 nations.

As part of the Kyoto Prize events, the Inamori Foundation also gives college scholarships to several high school students in San Diego and Tijuana to pursue their studies in sciences and arts.

Inamori is the founder of the Kyocera Corp., headquartered in Kyoto, with its North American headquarters in San Diego. The Inamori Foundation and Inamori have also been the largest donors to the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park.

The global pandemic forced this year’s Kyoto Prize events online, where registration and attendance is free and open to the public. Registration information for all events is at

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