Celebrating the Oscars for Science: Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prize
This fall, the Breakthrough Prize, otherwise known as the “Oscars of Science,” has announced the winners of its 2023 awards. Founded by tech investor and science philanthropist Yuri Milner and his wife Julia, the Breakthrough Prize celebrates the world’s greatest minds that work in the fundamental sciences, unveiling discoveries that answer some of life’s most profound questions.
The Breakthrough Prize Foundation was created to follow through on the Milners’ Giving Pledge commitment to support endeavors in the scientific field. Here, we’ll take a look at the various Breakthrough Prizes, what they include, and last year’s winners.
The Breakthrough Prizes
The Breakthrough Prize recognizes achievements in three main fields: Fundamental Physics, Life Sciences, and Mathematics. Across these categories, there are several awards on offer with individual prizes of up to $3 million. The Breakthrough Prizes receive sponsorship from personal foundations established by Julia and Yuri Milner, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, and Anne Wojcicki.
The $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics recognizes an individual or individuals who have made a considerable contribution to human knowledge, unraveling some of the deepest mysteries of the universe and the structure of reality. Additionally, the New Horizons in Physics Prize offers up to three $100,000 awards for newly emerging physicists who have already generated important research.
Each year, the Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics, worth $3 million, honors a mathematician who has made a profound discovery across the many branches of their field.
Also on offer are:
- Up to six $100,000 New Horizons in Mathematics Prizes for early-career math researchers.
- Up to three $50,000 Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes for women mathematicians who, in the previous two years, have completed their PhDs.
Three Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences, $3 million each, reward individuals who have advanced our understanding of living systems and extended human life. One of these prizes recognizes work in neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease.
The Giving Pledge: Yuri Milner’s Science Philanthropy
In 2012, Yuri Milner and his wife Julia joined the Giving Pledge, directing their philanthropy toward scientific programs and ideas. That same year, they launched the Breakthrough Prizes in partnership with Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, Priscilla Chan, and Mark Zuckerberg to celebrate the achievements of leading scientists. Winners receive their awards during an annual ceremony that, televised globally, inspires the next generation of great scientific minds.
Yuri Milner’s Giving Pledge legacy has also seen the creation of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge and the Breakthrough Initiatives, philanthropic projects that, respectively, encourage children to engage with scientific ideas and further the search for extraterrestrial life.
2022 Breakthrough Prize Winners
Every year, Selection Committees composed of previous Breakthrough Prize laureates in each field choose the new champions.
The 2022 Breakthrough Prize winners in the Life Sciences category were:
- Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, for research into modified RNA technology that enabled the speedy development of effective Covid-19 vaccines.
- Jeffery W. Kelly, for his work explaining the molecular basis of neurodegenerative and cardiac transthyretin diseases and developing a drug that slows their advancement, tafamidis.
- David Klenerman, Shankar Balasubramanian, and Pascal Mayer developed an affordable approach to determining DNA sequences on a large scale.
The 2022 winners of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics are Jun Ye and Hidetoshi Katori for their part in the optical lattice clock’s invention and development. And Takuro Mochizuki won the 2022 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics for his work on the theory of bundles with flat connections over algebraic variations, including the case of irregular singularities.