Mark Zuckerberg and Peers Award $22 Million to Science Visionaries

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Three years ago, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang, as well as Yuri and Julia Milner co-founded “The Breakthrough Prize,” which aims to celebrate science and scientists while generating excitement about the pursuit of science as a career.

“By challenging conventional thinking and expanding knowledge over the long term, scientists can solve the biggest problems of our time,” said Mark Zuckerberg. “The Breakthrough Prize honors achievements in science and math so we can encourage more pioneering research and celebrate scientists as the heroes they truly are.”

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The Ceremony

During its 3rd annual award ceremony, which was produced and directed by Emmy Award-winning Don Mischer Productions and broadcast live on National Geographic Channel last night, a combined total of $21.9 million was awarded as the recipients of 2016’s Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics and Mathematics were announced.

Seth MacFarlane hosted the show and introduced performances by artists like Pharrell Williams and appearances by celebrity presenters including Russell Crowe, Hilary Swank, Lily Collins, as well as Kumail Nanjiani and Martin Starr of HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” The show also featured a video link-up to astronaut Scott Kelly aboard the International Space Station to commemorate the night’s theme, “Life in the Universe.”

The Winners

“Breakthrough Prize laureates are making fundamental discoveries about the universe, life and the mind,” Yuri Milner said. “These fields of investigation are advancing at an exponential pace, yet the biggest questions remain to be answered.” 

The 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences (five prizes, $3 million each)

The award honors transformative advances toward understanding living systems and extending human life.

“They have pushed forward new ideas about Alzheimer’s, cholesterol, neurological imaging and the origins of our species,” said Anne Wojcicki.

  • Edward S. Boyden (MIT)
  • Karl Deisseroth (Stanford University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute)
  • John Hardy (University College London)
  • Helen Hobbs (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Howard Hughes Medical Institute)
  • and Svante Pääbo (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology).

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The 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics ($3 million)

The award recognizes major insights into the deepest questions of the Universe.

To the five teams below and their combined 1,377 team leaders and members the award is presented for the fundamental discovery and exploration of neutrino oscillations, revealing a new frontier beyond, and possibly far beyond, the standard model of particle physics.

  • Daya Bay (China)
  • KamLAND (Japan)
  • K2K / T2K (Japan)
  • Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (Canada)
  • and Super-Kamiokande (Japan).

The 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics ($3 million)

The award honors the world’s best mathematicians who have contributed to major advances in the field.

  • Ian Agol (University of California at Berkeley and Institute for Advanced Study) – for spectacular contributions to low dimensional topology and geometric group theory, including work on the solutions of the tameness, virtual Haken and virtual fibering conjectures.

The Inaugural Breakthrough Junior Challenge

New this year, Priscilla Chan and Sal Khan for the first time announced the winner of the inaugural “Breakthrough Junior Challenge,” 18-year-old Ryan Chester, of North Royalton, Ohio.

The new competition invited young people, ages 13-to-18, to create short videos that communicated big ideas in the life sciences, physics and math. The contest received more than 2,000 applications from 86 countries.

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Chester, who won the competition, received a $250,000 educational scholarship for his winning video depiction of Einstein’s theory of special relativity, but he is not the only one benefiting from the Junior Challenge. His teacher, Richard Nestoff, was awarded an additional $50,000 and Chester’s school, North Royalton High School, will receive a state-of-the art science lab valued at $100,000.

“Mark and I are incredibly committed to investing in science,” said Dr. Priscilla Chan. “With the Breakthrough Prize and Junior Challenge, we want to inspire more young people to study science and math, and pursue careers that change all our lives.”

Other Prizes and Initiatives

In addition to the main Breakthrough awards, five “New Horizons” prizes, a $100,000 award that recognizes the achievements of young scientists, were given to eight early-career physicists and mathematicians (check out the full list here.)

In continuation of the celebration, a number of select Breakthrough Prize laureates will present at the Breakthrough Prize Symposium, which will be held on Monday, November 9, on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, and co-sponsored by Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco.

In addition to academic symposia by leading scientists and Breakthrough Prize laureates, there will be a public program of panel discussions for general audiences, featuring Breakthrough Prize laureates past and present. Breakthrough Prize founder Yuri Milner will host three panels that explore the theme of the symposium, “Big Questions.”



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