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How Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prize Rewards the World’s Top Scientists

On Sept. 22, 2022, the Breakthrough Prize announced its 2023 winners. As part of Yuri Milner’s Giving Pledge philanthropy, the Breakthrough Prize honors brilliant research in the fields of science and mathematics, celebrating the latest discoveries that further humanity’s quest for knowledge and understanding of the Universe.

Here, we’ll explore the origins of the Breakthrough Prize, its categories and awards, and how the Prize rewards the world’s top scientists, including last year’s laureates.

The Giving Pledge and Origins of the Breakthrough Prize

Yuri Milner developed a love of science as a child after reading Intelligent Life in the Universe by the astronomers Iosif Shklovsky and Carl Sagan. After pursuing postgraduate research in quantum field theory, he became an entrepreneur who invests in internet technology. But his passion for science has remained, and this is apparent in his philanthropic efforts, which include the Breakthrough Prize.

In 2012, Yuri Milner and his wife Julia signed Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet’s Giving Pledge. Their Giving Pledge involved directing a large part of their wealth toward philanthropy; in the Milners’ case this includes the Breakthrough Prizes, the biggest scientific awards in the world. Through these Prizes, Yuri Milner aims to reward visionary scientists and mathematicians with financial capital and prestige for profound breakthroughs.

The Breakthrough Prize is a collaborative effort between many of the world’s most influential billionaires. Founded by Julia and Yuri Milner, Anne Wojcicki, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, and Priscilla Chan. To date, the Breakthrough Prize Foundation has awarded $276.5 million to the best and brightest in science.

The Breakthrough Prize: Categories and Awards

Every year, the Breakthrough Prize rewards some of the most pioneering work in the following fields:

  • Fundamental Physics
  • Life Sciences
  • Mathematics

Each of these categories offers $3 million awards to Breakthrough Prize winners, as well as several other awards ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 for individuals who, despite the early stages of their careers, have contributed enormously to their fields.

Often called the “Oscars of Science,” the Breakthrough Prize announces the award winners at an annual ceremony that it broadcasts around the world. The goal is to promote the laureates as aspirational leaders of our time and inspire as many young, budding scientists as possible. After the award ceremony, the laureates engage in a program of lectures and discussions to further advance the communication of scientific ideas.

The Breakthrough Prize Laureates 2022

Every year the Breakthrough Prize acknowledges research that has had a major impact on the world. The cohort of 2022 laureates, announced in September 2021, included:

  • Jeffery W. Kelly, for developing tafamidis, a drug that slows the progression of neurodegenerative and cardiac transthyretin diseases. His work also involved clarifying these diseases’ molecular basis.
  • Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó, for designing altered RNA technology that enabled the rapid development of effective Covid-19 vaccines.
  • Shankar Balasubramanian, David Klenerman, and Pascal Mayer, for developing a robust and cost-effective technique for determining DNA sequences on a massive scale, transforming the practice of medicine and the life sciences.
  • Jun Ye and Hidetoshi Katori, for exceptional contributions to the invention and development of the optical lattice clock.
  • Takuro Mochizuki, for his work on the theory of bundles with flat connections over algebraic varieties.

Additionally, in 2022, the Breakthrough Prize Foundation awarded six New Horizons Prizes to thirteen early-career scientists and mathematicians, acknowledging their substantial impact on their fields of study, and three Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes to early-career women mathematicians.

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