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How Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prize Celebrates the Next Generation of Scientists

Darwin, Einstein, Turing, Hawking: Sometimes, a single, exceptional mind can extend the collective understanding of our universe. Recognizing that great scientists enrich us all through life-changing discoveries, Yuri Milner, a technology investor, and science philanthropist, established The Breakthrough Prize in 2012.

The Breakthrough Prize celebrates the greatest minds working in the fundamental sciences today, rewarding individuals with millions of dollars in prize money and cultural recognition. Let’s take a closer look at the Breakthrough Prize and its connection with Yuri Milner’s Giving Pledge philanthropy.

Millions in Prize Money for Science’s Greatest Minds

The Breakthrough Prize honors the world’s top scientists who work in the fields of Fundamental Physics, the Life Sciences, and Mathematics. These are the disciplines that seek to unearth the deepest explanations to life’s biggest questions, such as: What is the universe made of? How did life begin? How much is knowable?

Each of the three fields offers $3 million prizes. Additional prizes awarded to early-career researchers include the $100,000 New Horizons in Physics and Mathematics Prize and the $50,000 Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize for women mathematicians.

Sponsorship for the awards stems from the personal foundations of the Breakthrough Prize founders Julia and Yuri Milner, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, and Anne Wojcicki.

Selecting Winners

Every year, Selection Committees composed of existing laureates in each field choose the new winners of the Breakthrough Prizes. Some of 2022’s winners include:

  • Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, whose creation of modified RNA technology led to the fast development of effective vaccines against Covid-19 and won them a Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.
  • Hidetoshi Katori and Jun Ye gained the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for their remarkable contribution to the invention of a device that enables precision tests of the fundamental laws of nature: the optical lattice clock.
  • Takuro Mochizuki, who achieved the Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics for his work on the theory of bundles with flat connections over algebraic varieties.
  • Yilin Wang, whose innovative work on the Loewner energy of planar curves won her a Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize.

The Oscars of Science

Also called the “Oscars of Science,” the Breakthrough Prize honors laureates at an annual ceremony broadcast around the world, celebrating their revolutionary achievements and inspiring younger generations to follow their passion for the sciences.

Following the ceremony, winners take part in a day-long program of public lectures, talks, and discussions featuring fellow Breakthrough Prize laureates and some of the world’s leading scientists.

The Giving Pledge: Investing in Our Shared Future

In the same year that Yuri Milner founded the Breakthrough Prize, he and his wife Julia joined the Giving Pledge, an open invitation from Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates to fellow billionaires, asking them to publicly commit to donating the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes in their wills or throughout their lifetimes.

In his Giving Pledge letter, Yuri Milner references Einstein and Galileo as some of his heroes and acknowledges underfunding of scientific brilliance in recent times. He describes how his investment in scientists led to the first Fundamental Physics Prize and Life Sciences Breakthrough Prize, rewarding major contributions to our understanding of the universe’s deep structure and great discoveries in biology and medicine.

Through their Giving Pledge, Julia and Yuri Milner have vowed to direct their philanthropy toward scientific programs and the communication of scientific ideas, investing in humanity’s leading minds and nurturing the next generation of geniuses.