Five mathematicians shared the first-ever Breakthrough Prizes in their field, while six scientists shared the Life Sciences Prizes for work on such topics as the regulation of genes and bacterial immunity, as winners of the second annual Breakthrough Prizes, awarded Sunday in San Francisco. Each of these 11 prizes is worth $3 million.
The awards began in 2012 when Silicon Valley venture Russian capitalist Yuri Milner launched the Fundamental Physics Prize. The nine inaugural winners received a total of $27 million. The goal is to reward exemplary work and also bring science more to the fore, said Milner. His aim was to bring more attention to the importance of fundamental science. “Scientists are not celebrities in the way I think they should be,” Milner said. On the other hand, The Nobel Prize, founded in 1898 by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, awards just $1.1 million.
A separate set of honors, the New Horizons Prizes, three awards worth $100,000 apiece and given for work with a promising future, were also announced at the gala on Sunday. Seven physicists will share these three prizes.
The Breakthrough Prizes were founded by Google’s Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki; Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang; Yuri and Julia Milner; and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. The recipients are selected by a committee of previous winners.
Held at Hangar One, an enormous former airship station run by Nasa in Silicon Valley, the event was hosted by Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy and executive producer of the 2014 remake of the Carl Sagan series, Cosmos. Eddie Redmayne, who plays Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything biopic, presented the physics prize, with Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, and Benedict Cumberbatch, the lead in the Alan Turing film The Imitation Game, handing out maths prizes. Moreover the actors Cameron Diaz, Kate Beckinsale and the inventor and space pioneer Elon Musk were among the other presenters.
“The world faces many fundamental challenges today and there are many amazing scientists, researchers and engineers helping us solve them,” Zuckerberg said in a statement. “This year’s Breakthrough prize winners have made discoveries that will help cure disease and move the world forward. They deserve to be recognised as heroes.”