On 4 December, the Breakthrough Foundation honored physicists, life scientists, and mathematicians with the Breakthrough Prize worth $25 million for making significant contributions to their fields. The Breakthrough Prize is the most lucrative award in science and is often called the “Oscars of science” or the “Silicon Valley’s Nobles.” Each year, the winners are handed the prize in a gala ceremony at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California where scientists mingle with Hollywood celebrities. According to the founders, the award ceremony is “designed to celebrate their achievements and inspire the next generation of scientists.” Winners are chosen by a selection committee that comprises prior Breakthrough Prize laureates.
The winners of 2017 Breakthrough Prize, which is now in its fifth year, are as follows:
- 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences: Stephen J. Elledge, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, for discovering how cells respond to DNA damage; Harry F. Noller, a molecular biologist at UC Santa Cruz, for reporting the centrality of RNA to protein synthesis; Roeland Nusse, developmental biologist at Stanford University for his research into the Wnt signalling pathway; Yoshinori Ohsumi, Tokyo Institute of Technology for his research on autophagy; and Huda Yahya Zoghbi, Baylor College of Medicine, for determining the causes underlying the neurological disorders spinocerebellar ataxia and Rett syndrome
- 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics: Joseph Polchinski, UC Santa Barbara; Andrew Strominger, Harvard University; and Cumrun Vafa, Harvard University were awarded for making significant advances in quantum field theory, string theory, and quantum gravity
- 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics: Jean Bourgain, the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, for his contribution to geometry of multidimensional spaces, partial differential equations, and number theory
- Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics: A collective prize awarded to Ronald Drever, physicist emeritus at the CalTech; Kip Thorne, CalTech; and, Rainer Weiss, physicist emeritus at MIT; and their team of 1,012 researchers for the LIGO project that made advances in astronomy and physics trhough its observations of gravitational waves
Apart from these, special prizes called New Horizons worth $100,000 were awarded to promising junior researchers from physics and mathematics fields for producing important work. The winners are:
- New Horizons in Physics Prize: Asimina Arvanitaki, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario, Canada; Peter Graham and Surjeet Rajendran who split one prize are from Stanford University and UC Berkeley respectively; Simone Giombi and Xi Yin who split another prize are from Princeton University, and Harvard University respectively; and Frans Pretorius, Princeton University
- New Horizons in Mathematics Prize: Mohammed Abouzaid, Columbia University; Hugo Duminil-Copin, University of Geneva; and Benjamin Elias, University of Oregon; and Geordie Williamson, Kyoto University
Congratulations to all the winners!
The Breakthrough Foundation was founded in 2012 by Sergey Brin of Google; Anne Wojcicki of 23andMe; Jack Ma of Alibaba and his wife, Cathy Zhang; Yuri Milner, an internet entrepreneur, and his wife, Julia Milner; and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and his wife, Priscilla Chan.