18. May 2022

Wilhelm Exner Medals 2021 awarded to Katalin Karikó and Luisa Torsi

For 100 years already, the Austrian Craft and Trade Association has honored scientists, whose findings have led to or initiated important applications in the fields of trade and industry, with the Wilhelm Exner Medal. For the anniversary year 2021, Luisa Torsi and Katalin Karikó received the awards – two outstanding researchers whose discoveries have changed society as well as the economy. The Wilhelm Exner Medals were awarded by Federal Minister Leonore Gewessler in a prize ceremony at the Palais Eschenbach, with a delay due to the pandemic.

Award ceremony with Federal Minister Leonore Gewessler

Due to the pandemic, the award ceremony, which was planned for last November, had to be postponed. At today’s ceremony, the award winners were finally able to receive their medals from Leonore Gewessler, Federal Minister for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology:

“The two medal winners – Professor Katalin Karikó and Professor Luisa Torsi – are outstanding scientists who succeed 23 Nobel Prize winners among the previous recipients of the medal. These two laureates represent science at its best: They are always in search of new findings while keeping in mind the common good. We need this pioneering spirit in order to be able to meet the great challenges of our time, especially those of the climate crisis. However, Katalin Karikó and Luisa Torsi are pioneers in a different regard as well. They are two of only nine women among the 241 medal winners so far.”

The 2021 laureates

“Applied research makes a vital contribution to entrepreneurial success and social progress. The economy needs a scientific counterpart that drives innovation,” says Stefan Radel, Chairman of the Wilhelm Exner Foundation, emphasizing the need to build bridges between entrepreneurship and research.

“Those who are honored today live up to Exner’s standards and even surpass them. The Wilhelm Exner Medal honors achievements and innovations that actually reach the market. The potentials of their research have led to countless business formations, products and applications. A lot can be expected in the coming years,” said Peter Lieber, President of the Austrian Craft and Trade Association, to explain the reasons for the decision of the jury. The medal is awarded exclusively on the proposal of former medal holders and the conferral is determined in a secret session of the jury, chaired by the president of the Austrian Rectors Conference, Sabine Seidler.

Dr. Luisa Torsi

Torsi (University of Bari, Italy) is a pioneer in the field of organic bioelectronics. In her research work, she combines electronic and electrochemical sensors, analytical chemistry, organic semiconductors, physics of solid-state devices, materials chemistry and physics. She stands at the forefront of one of the fastest-growing research directions in the field of organic electronics and her discoveries promise new technologies for healthcare and human well-being, among them very thin and energy-efficient electronics such as highly flexible displays for smartphones.

Dr. Katalin Karikó

Karikó (University of Pennsylvania, USA; Biontech, Germany) takes a leading role in the development of mRNA-based drugs. Karikó and her colleagues succeeded in packaging the sensitive mRNA molecules into lipid molecules. These tiny nanoparticles can be injected into animals and humans without triggering a dangerous immune response. Her work provides the basis for Covid-19 vaccines as well as for medication against cancer, strokes or cystic fibrosis. Also, the company Moderna was founded based on this technology. Karikó has been Director of Research at Biontech in the position of Senior Vice President since 2013.