The first four-year cycle of the prize (2005-2008) was established to give international recognition and visibility to outstanding scientific achievements made in basic sciences by individual scientists in developing countries. It was named the 'Trieste Science Prize', in recognition of the unique and fundamental role that the Trieste System of scientific institutions plays in promoting science and technology in the developing world.
The second four-year cycle (2009-2012) of the prize – renamed 'Ernesto Illy Trieste Science Prize' in honour of illycaffè's late former president – focused on sustainability science. The prize was awarded annually and rotated among various fields of science. In 2009 the award was made for research on climate change and its impact on agriculture in developing countries, in 2010 in the field of renewable energies for environmentally sustainable industrial technologies, in 2011 in materials science, and in 2012 the prize was awarded in the field of human health.
The prize carried a monetary award of USD 100,000 generously contributed by illycaffè, a medal and a certificate bearing the citation highlighting the major contributions for which the prize was awarded. The annual prize was presented to the recipient at a special occasion arranged by TWAS and illycaffè.
- Candidates had to be nationals of developing countries, working and living in the South.
- The prizes was only awarded to individuals for scientific research of outstanding international merit carried out at institutions in developing countries.
- Individuals who had received the Nobel Prize, the Tokyo/Kyoto Prize, the Crafoord Prize or the Abel Prize were not eligible for the Ernesto Illy Trieste Science Prize.
- Nominations had to be for single individuals only.
- The evaluation was carried out by a scientific committee, chaired by the TWAS President, consisting of an authoritative and international jury and a designated representative from illycaffè.
- Jury members were not eligible for the Ernesto Illy Trieste Science Prize.
- Nominations were invited from TWAS members, selected individuals, as well as from science academies, national research councils, universities and scientific institutions. Self-nominations were not accepted.
- Nominations of women scientists were particularly encouraged.
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Trieste Science Prize 2005
* Tiruppattur V. Ramakrishnan, India, physics and astronomy
* Sergio Henrique Ferreira, Brazil, biological sciences
Trieste Science Prize 2006
* Chen Ding-Shinn, Taiwan, China, medical sciences
* Rao Zihe, China, medical sciences
* Jacob Palis, Brazil, mathematics
* C.S. Seshadri, India, mathematics
Trieste Science Prize 2007
* Luis Rafael Herrera-Estrella, Mexico, agricultural sciences
* Goverdhan Mehta, India, chemical sciences
Trieste Science Prize 2008
* Beatriz Barbuy, Brazil, space sciences
* Roddam Narasimha, India, engineering sciences
Ernesto Illy Trieste Science Prize 2009
* Pramod Kumar Aggarwal, India, climate change and its impact on agriculture
* Carlos Clemente Cerri, Brazil, climate change and its impact on agriculture
Ernesto Illy Trieste Science Prize 2010
* José Goldemberg, Brazil, renewable energies
Ernesto Illy Trieste Science Prize 2011
* CNR Rao, India, materials science
Ernesto Illy Trieste Science Prize 2012
* Yuk Ming Dennis Lo, China, human health