Breakthrough Prize – The Oscar Awards of Science

Tech billionaires from Silicon Valley award $25 million to scientists – recognition of contribution to Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics, and Mathematics.

Breakthrough Prize – The Oscar Awards of Science

The annual Breakthrough Prize televised ceremony was held on December 4, 2016, the fifth since its inception in 2012 by the Russian billionaire, Yuri Milner and his wife Julia in 2012 with the purpose of annually rewarding theoretical physicists for outstanding scientific achievements.

However, as more patrons kept joining the great cause of honoring groundbreaking scientific contributions, the award was not restricted to just theoretical physics. The Breakthrough Awards now honors three disciplines in science namely, Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics, and Mathematics.

Actor Vin Diesel (left) and Breakthrough prize co-founder Mark Zuckerberg during the 2017 Breakthrough prize ceremony at Nasa Ames Research Center. Photograph: Kimberly White/Getty Images
Actor Vin Diesel and Mark Zuckerberg during the 2017 Breakthrough prize ceremony at Nasa Ames Research Center. Credit: Kimberly White/Getty Images

As of now, the patrons, or rather the major contributors, of the annual “Breakthrough Prize” events are Russian billionaire and investor Yuri Milner & his wife Julia Milner, Google’s Sergey Brin & biotech firm 23andMe’s Anne Wojcicki, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, and Alibaba’s Jack Ma and his wife Cathy Zhang.

The nomination for each discipline is done in the most transparent manner possible. The candidates for the nomination are chosen through an online public voting system and the final award recipients are chosen from among these nominees by committees of previous laureates.

The laureates receive a cash reward of $3 million each in prize money along with a trophy created by the artist Olafur Eliasson – the sculpture is, arguably, the perfect amalgamation of art and science to form a “toroid” – a doughnut-shaped trophy.

The fifth Breakthrough Prize ceremony (2017) held at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California was hosted by the Hollywood thespian, Morgan Freeman, and had all the trimmings, glitz, and glamour of an Oscar Award including the red carpet, performance by Alicia Keys and presentations from Daniel Ek (CEO of Spotify), Jeremy Irons, Mark and Scott Kelly, Hiroshi Mikitani (CEO of Rakuten), Sienna Miller, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vin Diesel, Kevin Durant, Dev Patel, Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google), Alex Rodriguez, Will.i.am, Susan Wojcicki (CEO of YouTube) and the founders of the Breakthrough Prize including Mark Zuckerberg.

This year’s Breakthrough Prize ceremony witnessed a total of 15 prizes bestowed upon scientists and researchers including 6 prizes of $100,000 each called the New Horizons Prizes for early career accomplishments, and one $250,000 Breakthrough Junior Prize.

Winners of the 2016 Breakthrough Prize awards in Mountain View, Calif., on Sunday evening. Credit Steve Jennings/Getty Images
Winners of the 2016 Breakthrough Prize awards in Mountain View, Calif, on Sunday evening. Credit: Steve Jennings/Getty Images

Here is a breakup of the 15 prizes awarded this year:

Life Sciences: 5 prizes of $ 3 million and a trophy each were awarded under this particular discipline and the recipients were:

Stephen Elledge, an American geneticist at Harvard Medical School, for providing insights into the life and death of cells as well as the development and treatment of cancer.

Harry Noller, an American biochemist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for revealing the structure of ribosomes, which are the protein factories inside cells.

Roeland Nusse, a Dutch biologist at Stanford University, for studying intercellular signaling systems involved in development, cancer, and stem cell biology.

Yoshinori Ohsumi, a Japanese cell biologist at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, for studying how cells recycle their damaged parts.

Huda Zoghbi, a Lebanese medical researcher at Baylor College, for discovering the genetic causes of certain niche neurological diseases.

Fundamental Physics: 1 prize of $3 million shared equally between three laureates under this discipline.

Joseph Polchinski, an American theoretical physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, for advances in quantum field theory, string theory, and quantum gravity.

Andrew Strominger, an American theoretical physicist at Harvard University, for advances in quantum field theory, string theory, and quantum gravity.

Cumrun Vafa, an Iranian-American string theorist at Harvard University, for advances in quantum field theory, string theory, and quantum gravity.

Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics: The three laureates mentioned below will share $1 million equally, while $ 2 million will be divided among their 1,012 members of their research group.

Ronald Drever, a Scottish-American experimental physicist at Caltech, for co-leading the LIGO project, which observed gravitational waves.

Kip Thorne, an American theoretical physicist at Caltech, for co-leading the LIGO project, which observed gravitational waves.

Rainer Weiss, an American physicist at MIT, for co-leading the LIGO project, which observed gravitational waves.

Mathematics: 1 prize of $3 million awarded to below-mentioned laureate:

Jean Bourgain, a Belgian mathematician at the Institute for Advanced Study, for contributions to the fields of high-dimensional geometry, partial differential equations, number theory, and other specialized areas of mathematics.

Breakthrough Junior Challenge:
A final prize, the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, honors students with an “original science video [that] brings to life an important scientific or mathematical idea or principle,” to the tune of $250,000, with additional prize money for their teachers and school.

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