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Technology

How Yuri Milner Recognises Industry-Changing Scientists Through the Breakthrough Prize

Inspired by Yuri Milner’s Giving Pledge, The Breakthrough Prize Foundation provides scientists with prestige and major financial compensation for their valuable scientific advances. As the world’s largest science award, The Breakthrough Prize celebrates those who are responsible for major developments in fundamental sciences.

Here’s how and why the science entrepreneur and philanthropist Yuri Milner and his partners reward the scientists who are shaping change in their fields through this Prize, which is often referred to colloquially as the “Oscars of Science.”

The “Why” Behind the Giving Pledge and Breakthrough Prize

As one of the 236 signatories of Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates’ Giving Pledge, Yuri Milner and his wife Julia have agreed to donate at least half of their combined wealth to primarily scientific causes. They have made this decision in a bid to reward the work of scientists whose research fuels essential developments in their fields, allowing the global scientific community to advance research across the board and inspiring the next generation of scientific thinkers. The Breakthrough Prize is just one of the initiatives that have grown from Julia and Yuri Milner’s Giving Pledge.

The Breakthrough Prizes

The three main Breakthrough Prizes are for the fields of Fundamental Physics, the Life Sciences, and Mathematics. The Prize Selection Committees may select recipients to share the Prize funds, which each prize totalling $3 million. Recipients also take home the Breakthrough Prize trophy, which Artist Olafur Eliasson crafted with a design that reflects the common ground between art and science. The trophy is a toroid shape, a surface of revolution with a hole in the middle. This shape represents the natural forms found in black holes and galaxies, seashells, and coils of DNA.

Additional Prizes include the $100,000 New Horizons in Physics and Mathematics Prize, which celebrates early-career researchers who have completed pivotal work in their niches, and the $50,000 Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize, which rewards women who have enabled groundbreaking change while early in mathematics-related careers. These individuals must have completed their PhDs within the past two years.

Recipients are announced at an annual, televised ceremony that is followed by lectures and discussions, in which laureates partake. While celebrating these laureates’ achievements in the science space, the ceremony also aims to inspire a new generation of scientific thinkers. Previous hosts of the acclaimed competition ceremony include Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Seth MacFarlane, Pierce Brosnan, and James Corden.

2022 Prize Recipients

The 2022 Breakthrough Prize recipients for the Life Sciences category were Jeffery W. Kelly; Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman; Shankar Balasubramanian, David Klenerman, and Pascal Mayer. The winners of the Fundamental Physics category were Hidetoshi Katori and Jun Ye. And the winner of the Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics was Takuro Mochizuki. These individuals won the Prizes for:

  • Developing a drug that slows the progression of neurodegenerative and cardiac transthyretin diseases (and clarifying the molecular basis of these diseases)
  • Engineering an RNA technology that accelerated the development of Covid-19 vaccines
  • Developing a robust, affordable method to determine DNA sequences at scale
  • Contributing to the invention and development of the optical lattice clock
  • Completing essential research relating to the theory of bundles with flat connections over algebraic varieties, including the case of irregular singularities.

Now, the 2023 Breakthrough Prize winners have also been announced. This time, the Prizes celebrate the discovery of a new mechanism of cellular organization; the development of AlphaFold, which accurately predicts the structure of proteins; the discovery of the causes of narcolepsy; discoveries in theoretical computer science and mathematics; and foundational work in quantum information.