This year’s Breakthrough Prizes have been announced, awarding scientists from a variety of fields with prizes of millions of dollars to celebrate their achievements.
Known as the “Oscars of science”, the goal of the Breakthrough Prize is to give scientists a star-studded reception seen in other award ceremonies.
This time around, host Morgan Freeman was joined by Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, and more as the winners of $22 million in prizes were announced at the NASA Ames Research Center in California on Saturday December 3.
“It is always the right time to celebrate great scientists,” said Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, also known for his investments in Breakthrough Starshot and Breakthrough Listen, in a statement. “All of our futures depend on them.”
The annual awards were set up in 2012 by Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan, Yuri Milner, Julia Milner, Jack Ma, and Cathy Zhang. Nominees are put forward by the public, with the winners being chosen by a panel of judges that include previous laureates. This year, there were more than 11,000 entries from 178 countries.
There were seven prizes in total this year, spread across a number of subject areas. Five prizes, each worth $3 million, were awarded in the Life Sciences category. This honors people who had made “advances toward understanding living systems and extending human life.”
The recipients this year included Joanne Chory from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She discovered the molecular mechanisms through which planets extract information from light and shade.
Kazutoshi Mori from Kyoto University in Japan, meanwhile, scooped one of the prizes for “elucidating the sophisticated mechanism that mediates the perilous separation of duplicated chromosomes during cell division and thereby prevents genetic diseases such as cancer.”
The $3 million prize in the fundamental physics category was shared by the 27 members of the WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe) team. They have been responsible for detailed maps of the early universe by studying the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, telling us more about the evolution of the universe.
There were two joint winners of the Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics: Christopher Hacon of the University of Utah and James McKernan of the University of California, San Diego. This was for their contributions to “birational algebraic geometry”.
Six smaller New Horizons Prizes of $100,000 were also awarded, honoring scientists early in their career. A Junior Challenge prize was given to 18-year-old Hillary Diane Andales of the Philippines, worth $250,00 in educational prizes, for her video on general relativity.
“Every year I am inspired by the Breakthrough Prize laureates and the deep insights that are made possible by pure curiosity-driven research,” said Breakthrough Prize co-founder Anne Wojcicki. “This year is no exception.”