Since 2012, the world’s top scientists have gained recognition and acclaim from Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prize. Aside from the Breakthrough Prize, Yuri Milner has co-founded the Breakthrough Initiatives and Tech For Refugees. The Israeli billionaire is also a member of the Giving Pledge and the author of Eureka Manifesto.
On Sept. 22, 2023, the Breakthrough Prize will announce its laureates for 2024. Here’s a recap of the prizes on offer, last year’s laureates, and the 2023 Breakthrough Prize ceremony.
The Breakthrough Prize: Categories and Awards
The Breakthrough Prize honors and rewards researchers whose remarkable discoveries have revolutionized the fields of:
- Fundamental physics.
- Life sciences.
- Fundamental Physics
Insights from fundamental physics have transformed the ways we view our world. In the last century alone, discoveries like general relativity, quantum mechanics, and the Higgs boson have shaped our understanding of the Universe’s workings.
This century may produce more surprises, as physicists continue to illuminate the structure of reality itself.
These are the Breakthrough Prize awards in the field of fundamental physics:
- The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics ($3 million). This prize recognizes theoretical, mathematical, or experimental physicists working to unlock the deepest mysteries of the Universe. One Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics is available each year, though two or more scientists can share the award.
- The Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics ($3 million). In rare cases, this prize may go to a deserving individual at any time, forgoing the nomination process. Previous winners of the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics include Stephen Hawking, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, and Steven Weinberg.
- The New Horizons in Physics Prize ($100,000). Promising early-career researchers who have already created significant work are eligible to receive the New Horizons in Physics Prize. The Breakthrough Prize selection committee awards up to three of these prizes each year.
The discovery of the double helix in 1953 dramatically altered our understanding of life. Since then, disciplines like genetics, oncology, and neurology have seen significant progress. The rate of discoveries in the field of life sciences continues to accelerate.
The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences ($3 million) celebrates groundbreaking advances toward extending human life and understanding living systems.
The Breakthrough Prize selection committee has the option to grant the prize to more than one person, such as in the case of a collaboration. In these cases, the winners share the monetary award.
Each year, the Breakthrough Prize allocates a single Life Sciences prize for work that contributes to the understanding of Parkinson’s disease and neurodegenerative disorders.
Mathematics serves as the universal language of nature and plays a fundamental role in advancing knowledge across disciplines.
While mathematics provides the foundational structure for all sciences, the subject has an especially close relationship with physics. Through math, physicists have learned that concepts that once seemed wholly abstract — like imaginary numbers and Hilbert spaces — underpin real physical processes.
Additionally, the life sciences now heavily rely on statistical and computational research approaches rooted in math.
These are the Breakthrough Prize awards relating to mathematics:
- The Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics ($3 million). Only one of these prizes is available each year. In exceptional cases, such as when the award recognizes a collaborative effort, the selection committee may divide the prize.
- The New Horizons in Mathematics Prize ($100,000). Talented researchers in the early stages of their careers who have already produced important work are eligible to receive this prize. Each year, the selection committee hands out up to three New Horizons in Mathematics Prizes.
- The Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize ($50,000). This prize is presented to women mathematicians who have obtained their PhDs in the last two years. The selection committee awards a maximum of three Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes annually.
Last Year’s Breakthrough Prize Winners
From theoretical computer science to molecular biology, the 2023 Breakthrough Prize winners have achieved major innovations across many disciplines.
The 2023 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics
Four researchers shared the 2023 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics: Charles H. Bennett, Peter W. Shor, Gilles Brassard, and David Deutsch. These physicists have each accomplished foundational work in the field of quantum information.
The 2023 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences
Clifford P. Brangwynne and Anthony A. Hyman won one of three Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences in 2023. The duo discovered a fundamental mechanism of how cells organize themselves involving phase separation of proteins and RNA.
Demis Hassabis and John Jumper won another prize for developing a deep learning artificial intelligence (AI) method that predicts protein structures from their amino acid sequence.
Emmanuel Mignot and Masashi Yanagisawa also won a prize for their groundbreaking discovery of the cause of narcolepsy. The scientists found that the loss of a small group of brain cells that create a wake-promoting substance causes the disorder. This discovery has paved the way for the development of new narcolepsy treatments.
The 2023 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics
Daniel A. Spielman won the 2023 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics for his efforts in mathematics and theoretical computer science. Some of the areas Spielman has contributed to include spectral graph theory, the Kadison-Singer problem, and coding theory.
The 2023 New Horizons in Physics Prize
The three 2023 New Horizons in Physics Prizes went to eight individuals.
Manuel Endres, Hannes Pichler, Adam M. Kaufman, Hannes Bernien, Jeff Thompson, and Kang-Kuen Ni won one prize. The group developed optical tweezer arrays to achieve precise control over individual atoms. The optical tweezer arrays have critical applications in molecular physics, quantum information science, and metrology.
Anna Grassellino also received a New Horizons in Physics Prize for her discovery of major performance improvements in niobium superconducting radio-frequency cavities.
The third winner was David Simmons-Duffin. He developed analytical and numerical techniques to study conformal field theories. These include theories that describe the superfluid phase transition and the liquid vapor critical point.
The 2023 New Horizons in Mathematics Prize
The winners of the 2023 New Horizons in Mathematics Prize are Ana Caraiani, Ronen Eldan, and James Maynard.
Caraiani has made various impactful contributions to the Langlands program. Notably, she worked with Peter Scholze on the Hodge-Tate period map for Shimura varieties and their applications.
Eldan created the stochastic localization method. This method has led to major progress in several open problems in high-dimensional geometry and probability, such as the KLS conjecture.
Meanwhile, Maynard has made multiple contributions to analytic number theory, especially prime number distribution.
The 2023 Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize
The 2023 Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize winners are Maggie Miller, Jinyoung Park, and Vera Traub.
Miller has carried out impressive work on fibered ribbon knots and surfaces in four-dimensional manifolds. And Park has helped solve several major conjectures related to selector processes and thresholds.
Traub has made notable progress in approximation outcomes for classical combinatorial optimization problems. These problems include network design and the traveling salesman problem.
The 2023 Breakthrough Prize Ceremony
The Breakthrough Prize celebrates laureates at an annual, globally broadcast ceremony. While the music industry has the Grammys, and film and television have the Golden Globes, many consider the Breakthrough Prize ceremony the “Oscars of Science.” The event regularly features famous guests who range from business leaders to movie stars.
The Breakthrough Prize ceremony came to Los Angeles for the first time on April 15, 2023. James Corden hosted the event, which took place at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Hollywood.
A-list celebrities gathered to honor the heroes of the science world. Well-known actors like Danny DeVito, Robert Downey Jr., Gal Gadot, Brie Larson, Edward Norton, and Chris Pine helped present the awards. John Legend, Estelle, and will.i.am gave live performances throughout the evening.
About Yuri Milner
Yuri Milner is a technology investor, science philanthropist, and founder of the Breakthrough Prize. He became a member of the Giving Pledge in 2012. In joining the Giving Pledge, Yuri Milner committed to donating the majority of his wealth to mainly scientific causes.
Yuri Milner established the Breakthrough Initiatives in 2015 as part of his Giving Pledge. The Breakthrough Initiatives are a suite of space science projects that explore the fundamental questions of life in the Universe:
- The first Breakthrough Initiative, Listen, is searching for evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations.
- Watch involves a mission to identify signs of extraterrestrial life on nearby exo-Earths.
- Starshot plans to send a nanocraft to our nearest star at one-fifth of the speed of light.
- Discuss is an annual conference that brings together thought leaders in astronomy, engineering, space science, and other fields to discuss ways to identify life beyond Earth.
- Breakthrough Message is a competition that encourages people everywhere to come up with ways that we may be able to communicate with intelligent beings beyond Earth.
In 2022, Yuri Milner founded Tech For Refugees. Tech For Refugees is a non-profit that supports the use of technology in addressing the global refugee crisis.
Yuri Milner is also the author of Eureka Manifesto: The Mission for Our Civilization. Published in 2021, Eureka Manifesto proposes a shared mission for humanity: to explore and understand our Universe. Eureka Manifesto is available to read for free online.