Many major awards and events honor the best achievements in film, TV, music, and more. Meanwhile, the Israeli billionaire and tech investor Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prize, aka the “Oscars for Science,” celebrates the world’s top scientists at a televised gala award ceremony, with multi-million-dollar prizes on offer for groundbreaking discoveries.
Established by Yuri Milner and his wife Julia, along with other big-name entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan, Sergey Brin, and Anne Wojcicki, the Breakthrough Prize Foundation was founded after the Milners made their Giving Pledge in 2012, which saw the couple commit half of the wealth that they generate during their combined lifetime to science philanthropy.
Currently in its eleventh year, this fall, the Breakthrough Prize has announced the 2023 laureates. Read on for an introduction to the Breakthrough Prize, previous winners’ areas of scientific study, and the Giving Pledge motivation behind Yuri Milner’s organization.
The Breakthrough Prize
Currently the world’s largest scientific award, since launching a decade ago, the Breakthrough Prize has awarded a total of $276.5 million in prizes thanks to sponsorship from the personal foundations of individuals like Julia and Yuri Milner, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg.
These prizes go to respected scientists, as well as researchers just starting their careers, who have made groundbreaking discoveries in three categories: Fundamental Physics, the Life Sciences, and Mathematics. Each year, Selection Committees composed of previous Breakthrough Prize laureates choose the new winners.
Olafur Eliasson designed the Breakthrough Prize trophy, which takes the shape of a toroid, suggesting natural forms found at the largest and smallest scales of our universe, from galaxies to seashells and strands of DNA.
As well as the main $3 million Breakthrough Prizes, six $100,000 New Horizons Prizes are available to promising early-career physicists and mathematicians. Lastly, $50,000 awaits the winner(s) of the Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize, early-career women mathematicians who have completed PhDs within the last two years.
Open to theoretical, mathematical, and experimental physicists, The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics honors individuals whose research has added significantly to humanity’s understanding of the universe. The 2022 Fundamental Physics winners are Hidetoshi Katori and Jun Ye for their innovative work on the optical lattice clock, a device that enables precise tests of the fundamental laws of nature.
The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences celebrates those who have made major leaps forward in areas like genetics, neurology, and molecular biology.
Last year’s recipients in the Life Sciences category include Shankar Balasubramanian, David Klernerman, and Pascal Mayer; Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman; and Jeffrey W. Kelly. Respectively, their work covered such cutting-edge subjects as developing a large-scale DNA sequencing method, engineering modified RNA technology for Covid-19 vaccines and slowing the progression of neurodegenerative and cardiac transthyretin diseases.
The Mathematics Breakthrough Prize rewards significant discoveries across the many branches of modern math. In 2022, Takuro Mochizuki won the award for his work on the theory of bundles with flat connections over algebraic varieties, including the case of irregular singularities.
Yuri Milner’s Giving Pledge
Yuri Milner founded the first Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics in 2012, the same year in which he and his wife Julia signed Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates’ Giving Pledge, a movement of influential billionaires who have committed to donating the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes.
Through the Giving Pledge, Julia and Yuri Milner founded the Breakthrough Prize Foundation to invest in brilliant scientific minds and humanity’s shared future.