The Breakthrough Prizes 2017 were given away at an Oscars-like function in the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View on Sunday, Dec. 4, to honor outstanding research in life sciences, mathematics and fundamental physics.
Attended by the Who's Who of the technology industry and scientific honchos, the award function was hosted by actor Morgan Freeman. At the ceremony, a total of $25 million was awarded to the winners. The event had Grammy winner Alicia Keys rendering live pop entertainment.
"There has never been a more important time to support science," said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, one of the patrons of the foundation.
Russian Billionaire's Idea
For conceiving the gala event in science, credit goes to Yuri Milner, the Russian billionaire and investor, and his wife, Julia, who instituted the debut award in 2012 to reward theoretical physicists for outstanding scientific achievements.
Since then, the number of disciplines for awards expanded with more sponsors stepping in to support the cause. Among the new patrons are Google's Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, biotech firm 23andMe's Anne Wojcicki and Jack Ma and his wife Cathy Zhang of Alibaba.
The 2017 Breakthrough Prizes ceremony also marked the organization's fifth anniversary. Since 2012, the Breakthrough Prize has disbursed close to $200 million in honoring paradigm-shifting research in science.
The awardees this year in life sciences, fundamental physics and mathematics are the following.
These winners get individual $3 million in prizes.
- Stephen J. Elledge, Professor of Genetics and Medicine in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, for probing the role of damage detection proteins in yielding mutated DNA replication and increasing cancer risk.
- Harry F. Noller, Director, Center for Molecular Biology at the University of California. His work investigates the central role of RNA in the ribosome and origin of life.
- Roeland Nusse, Professor at Stanford University. He explored the Wnt gene pathway and its implications in cancer.
- Yoshinori Ohsumi, Honorary Professor, Institute of Innovative Research at Tokyo Institute of Technology. The work included the investigation of autophagy by which cells recycle their components to create nutrients.
- Huda Yahya Zoghbi, Professor of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine. The work was the discovery of biological underpinnings of spinocerebellar ataxia.
Fundamental Physics Winners
The following three recipients shared a single $3 million award for their advances in string theory, quantum field theory and quantum gravity.
- Joseph Polchinski, Professor of Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara
- Andrew Strominger, Director, Center for Fundamental Laws, Harvard University
- Cumrun Vafa, Professor, Department of Physics at Harvard University
Special Prize In Fundamental Physics
The following three winners shared a single $1 million prize, while $2 million was divided among 1,012 members of their research team.
- Ronald Drever, Professor at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena
- Kip Thorne, Feynman Professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena
- Rainer Weiss, Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Winner In Mathematics
- Jean Bourgain, Professor, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, for contributions to high-dimensional geometry and other theoretical areas.
One of the highlights of the awarding ceremony was the speeches by female students Antonella Masini, 18 (Peru) and Deanna See, 17 (Singapore). They were the winners of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge and got $250,000 for their inspiring science videos that promoted creative thinking on life sciences, physics and mathematics.