Science

$22 Million Breakthrough Prize Makes Science, Maths Glamorous

Many think that science and maths are boring. Tech tycoons including Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg are out there to change that perception. The  Breakthrough Prize Foundation handed out a total of $21.9 million in prizes to mathematicians, physicists, and life scientists. A high-school student also won $400,000 for creating a cool video explaining Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity.

$22 Million Breakthrough Prize Makes Science, Maths Glamorous

A star-studded affair

The Breakthrough Prize Foundation is funded by Milner, Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and 23andme founder Anne Wojcicki. The Breakthrough Prizes are worth three times more than the Nobel Prize amount. The initiative is meant to award the people whose discoveries will shape the future, but their efforts don’t get the recognition they deserve.

The third annual award ceremony on Sunday was hosted by Seth MacFarlane. It was a star-studded event with the performance by Pharrell Williams. The awards were presented by Hollywood celebrities like Hilary Swank and Russell Crowe. The Breakthrough Prizes are handed out in three categories: Mathematics, Fundamental Physics, and Life Sciences.

The prize for fundamental physics went to five separate, international teams of 1,377 scientists that confirmed the theory of neutrino oscillation. The seven team leaders received two-third of $3 million, while the remaining $1 million was split among the other 1,370 physicists. That means each of them would get approximately $700.

Breakthrough Prize in mathematics goes to Ian Agol

There were five separate Breakthrough Prizes in life sciences category, each worth $3 million. Edward Boyden of MIT and Karl Deisseroth of Stanford University won the Breakthrough Prize for the development and implementation of optogenetics. John Hardy of the University College of London was awarded the prize for discovering mutations in the Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP) gene, which is the cause of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Helen Hobbs of the University of Texas grabbed the Breakthrough Prize for the discovery of genetic variants that alter the distribution and levels of cholesterol. Svante Pääbo of Max Planck Institute was recognized for successfully sequencing ancient DNA and genomes of a Neanderthal from up to 700,000 years ago.

The mathematics prize went to Ian Agol of the University of California at Berkeley for his work on low dimensional topology and geometric group theory. Besides the three main categories, the Breakthrough Prize also acknowledged eight early-career mathematicians and physicists, each of whom received $100,000.