Breakthrough Prize hands out $25 million for “Oscars” of science

Breakthrough Prize Ceremony 2017 : Scientists Changing the World. Breakthrough Prize celebrates achievements in science with a star-studded ...

Breakthrough Prize Ceremony 2017: Scientists Changing the World. Breakthrough Prize celebrates achievements in science with a star-studded ceremony. At the fifth annual Breakthrough Prize ceremony last night, 14 scientists received a total of $25 million in science prizes for fundamental contributions to human knowledge.

This year’s winners include five molecular biologists who won $3 million each for work in genetics and cell biology, one mathematician, a trio of string theorists who split one $3 million physics prize, and another 1,015 physicists working on the LIGO gravitational wave detector split a special $3 million physics prize. In addition, there were six smaller “New Horizons” prizes totaling $600,000 for 10 “early career” researchers, and a pair of high school students won $400,000 apiece for making science videos.

Breakthrough Prize hands out $25 million for “Oscars” of science
The Breakthrough Prize was founded in 2012 and is financed by Silicon Valley billionaires such as Milner, Google’s Sergey Brin and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

One of the prizes was already announced earlier this year. The physicists behind the LIGO experiment, which revealed the first detection of Einstein’s long-sought gravitational waves in February, will share the $3 million Breakthrough Prize in fundamental physics. Of that, $1 million will be split between three of LIGO’s founders: Ronald Drever and Kip Thorne at the California Institute of Technology, and Rainer Weiss at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The other $2 million will be equally split between 1012 contributors to the experiment.

Another $3 million prize in fundamental physics will be split between three physicists. Joseph Polchinski at the University of California, Santa Barbara, was recognised for his theories of what happens at the event horizons of black holes, and Andrew Strominger and Cumrun Vafa at Harvard University were honoured for contributions to quantum gravity and string theory.

In addition to the big $3 million prizes, there were six $100,000 New Horizons prizes – half in physics and half in mathematics. The young physics winners are: Asimina Arvanitaki of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario, Canada; Peter Graham of Stanford and Surjeet Rajendran of the University of California, Berkeley, who split one prize; Simone Giombi of Princeton and Xi Yin of Harvard split another prize; and Frans Pretorius of Princeton.

In mathematics, the New Horizons winners were Mohammed Abouzaid of Columbia University; Hugo Duminil-Copin of the University of Geneva; and Benjamin Elias of the University of Oregon and Geordie Williamson of Kyoto University.

“If a few kids in a high school will get inspired by those incredible people, I think this effort is worth pursuing,” he says. “I think it’s really about the priorities of society: where we should put more resources in, and where the smartest people should go. If we can reach even half the audience of the Super Bowl globally, that would be amazing. But that’s a high bar.”

The richest awards in science were handed out Sunday night when the Breakthrough Prize organization presented a total of $21.9 million to physicists, mathematicians, life scientists and one talented high school student. The awards take the form of seven $3 million awards, one of which was split among roughly 1,300 physicists; $500,000 split among eight early-career researchers; and $400,000 to a high school student for creating a video communicating a scientific concept.

the fifth annual Breakthrough Prize awards
the fifth annual Breakthrough Prize ceremony. The event aims to shine a spotlight on scientists who are at the cutting edge of breakthrough discoveries. 

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