An Overview of Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prize

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The Breakthrough Prize, often informally referred to as the “Oscars of Science,” celebrates industry leaders who are paving the way for important developments in scientific fields that ask some of the biggest questions and seek the deepest explanations. Funded by the science entrepreneur and philanthropist Yuri Milner’s Giving Pledge, this Prize rewards some of the finest minds working at the forefront of the latest scientific research innovation.

Now that the results of the 2023 Breakthrough Prize have been announced, here’s an overview of the Prize, its categories, founder Yuri Milner’s reason for launching the Prize, and a reflection on last year’s winners.

What Is the Breakthrough Prize?

The Breakthrough Prize operates in the fields of Fundamental Physics, Life Sciences, and Mathematics. The Prize for each of these categories, a fund of $3 million, is presented to recipients at an annual ceremony that is broadcast globally. Meanwhile, the $50,000 Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize is open to women who are early in mathematics-related careers and have completed PhDs within the last two years. And six New Horizons in Physics and Mathematics Prizes, each $100,000, are also open to early-career researchers.

Each year, previous Breakthrough Prize laureates form Selection Committees, who choose the winners in their respective fields.

What Happens During the Prize Ceremony?

Aside from the prize-giving, laureates take part in a public programme of lectures and discussions. This way, not only does the Breakthrough Prize provide a space to recognise the scientists who are leading progression in their fields, but it also inspires the next generation of scientific minds to explore their interests. This is central to Yuri Milner’s purpose in launching the Prize.

Who Were the 2022 Prize Winners?

Last year, the Breakthrough Prize Foundation awarded a total of $15.75 million to the 2022 Breakthrough Prize winners.

The winners of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences were:

  • Jeffery W. Kelly, for his work that illuminates the molecular basis of neurodegenerative and cardiac transthyretin diseases. Kelly developed a drug, tafamidis, that slows these diseases’ progression.
  • Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, for developing modified RNA technology that enabled the rapid development of effective Covid-19 vaccines.
  • Shankar Balasubramanian, David Klenerman, and Pascal Mayer, for engineering a robust, cost-effective approach to determining DNA sequences at scale.

The winners of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics were:

  • Hidetoshi Katori and Jun Ye, for their essential contributions to the creation and development of the optical lattice clock. This clock enables precision tests of the fundamental laws of nature.

The winner of the Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics was:

  • Takuro Mochizuki, for his work that led to a breakthrough in scientists’ understanding of the theory of bundles with flat connections over algebraic varieties.

The winners of the 2023 Breakthrough Prize have now also been announced.

Who Founded the Breakthrough Prize?

Yuri Milner and his wife Julia founded the Breakthrough Prize alongside other notable individuals, including Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan, Anne Wojcicki, and Sergey Brin. The personal foundations of these individuals sponsor the Prize.

What Is Yuri Milner’s Giving Pledge?

Yuri Milner and his wife Julia provide funding for the Breakthrough Prize with the individuals listed above as part of their engagement with Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet’s Giving Pledge. This pledge has seen Julia and Yuri Milner commit at least half of their lifetime wealth to key scientific causes and development. The Giving Pledge is a movement in which philanthropists can dedicate large sums of their wealth to important causes, attracting individuals like Elon Musk and Jeffrey Rothschild.

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