In April 2023, Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prize, known as the “Oscars of Science,” came to Hollywood for the first time. The Breakthrough Prize celebrated laureates from recent years at a high-profile ceremony, which took place on the open-air roof of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. The previous eight ceremonies have taken place in San Francisco.
Aside from the Breakthrough Prize, Yuri Milner is the co-founder of the Breakthrough Initiatives, the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, and Tech For Refugees. He is also a Giving Pledge signatory and the author of Eureka Manifesto: The Mission for Our Civilisation.
Seeing Stars: The “Oscars of Science” Comes to Hollywood
The 2023 Breakthrough Prize ceremony lived up to its “Oscars of Science” alias on Saturday, April 15. Swapping San Francisco for Hollywood, the star-studded event featured big-screen celebrities like Chris Pine and Robert Downey Jr.
On the night, scientists rubbed shoulders with Hollywood stars and business innovators. Grammy-winning artist John Legend performed at the event, and actor and Emmy winner James Corden hosted.
The “Oscars of Science” boasted celebrity presenters and cinematic introductions to laureates’ achievements. Presenters included Kristen Bell, Gal Gadot, Edward Norton, and Prize co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. Lily Collins, Leslie Odom Jr., and Chloé Zhao also helped hand out prizes.
Other stars who attended the ceremony included Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, and Christina Aguilera. Former NASA astronaut Mae Carol Jemison and chess grandmaster Magnus Carlsen were also in attendance.
will.i.am and Estelle closed the ceremony with a stirring performance of The Script’s “Hall of Fame.” And singer-songwriter Chris Isaak, known for his hit song “Wicked Game,” performed at the event’s official after-party.
Don Mischer Productions brought the ceremony to life. The internationally acclaimed company has also produced the Academy Awards and several Super Bowl halftime shows.
Bright Minds Honoured at the Breakthrough Prize 2023 Ceremony
The Breakthrough Prize honours the achievements of the world’s leading scientists, awarding around $15 million in prizes to researchers each year. Each Breakthrough Prize is $3 million. The awards go to top researchers in the fields of Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics, and Mathematics.
On top of this, early-career researchers receive New Horizons Prizes in Physics and Mathematics ($100,000). Furthermore, women mathematicians who have completed their PhDs in the last two years are eligible for the Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize ($50,000).
Due to Covid-19 limitations, 2023 marked the first in-person event to celebrate the laureates since 2019. This year’s ceremony highlighted a selection of laureates, representing winners from 2021, 2022, and 2023.
The line-up of industry-leading researchers included:
- Daniel A. Spielman, who won the 2023 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. Spielman has provided innovative contributions to theoretical computer science and maths.
- Charles H. Bennett, Peter W. Shor, Gilles Brassard, and David Deutsch, who won the 2023 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for their foundational work in the quantum information field.
- Demis Hassabis and John Jumper, who won one of three 2023 Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences. They won this award for their work on a deep-learning AI method that predicts the three-dimensional structure of proteins from their amino acid sequence, both accurately and quickly.
- Shankar Balasubramanian, David Klernerman, and Pascal Mayer. The trio received a 2022 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for developing a revolutionary next-generation sequencing method. This advanced process offers a robust, affordable way to determine DNA sequences on a large scale.
- Jeffery W. Kelly, who also received a Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences in 2022. Kelly’s research focused on understanding the molecular causes of neurodegenerative and cardiac transthyretin diseases. He also contributed to the development of tafamidis, a drug that helps slow down the progression of these diseases.
- Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, who won the third 2022 Life Sciences prize. Their work was crucial in developing mRNA vaccines against the Covid-19 virus. On the night, the audience greeted the pair with an extended standing ovation.
- Yuk Ming Dennis Lo, who won one of the four Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences in 2021. Lo discovered that foetal DNA is present in maternal blood. This discovery has practical applications in the prenatal testing of various genetic disorders.
The 2023 Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize winners (Maggie Miller, Jinyoung Park, and Vera Traub) also attended. This year, the Prize celebrates:
- Miller’s work on fibred ribbon knots and surfaces in four-dimensional manifolds.
- Park’s work on the resolution of major conjectures on thresholds and selector processes.
- Traub’s developments in approximation results in classical combinatorial optimisation problems.
Breakthrough Junior Challenge Winners at the 2023 Ceremony
Recognising bright young minds, the ceremony honoured the three latest Breakthrough Junior Challenge winners:
- Noor Haideri. Haideri, from the U.S., won in 2022 with her video about the relationship between light and our sleep cycles.
- Amber Kwok. Hailing from Mauritius, Kwok’s video explaining Van der Waals and Casimir forces won her the 2021 Breakthrough Junior Challenge.
- Maryam Tsegaye. Tsegaye, from Canada, won in 2020 with an inventive video about quantum tunnelling.
The Breakthrough Junior Challenge is a global science competition for teenagers. The contest asks students to create and submit short, creative videos explaining a complex scientific idea.
Behind The Breakthrough Prize Foundation
The Milners launched their charitable foundation, the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, over 10 years ago to fulfil their Giving Pledge. The philanthropic organisation:
- Celebrates scientific achievements.
- Leverages scientific and technological innovations to improve lives and inspire future generations.
- Helps advance fundamental knowledge about life in the Universe.
Priscilla Chan, Mark Zuckerberg, and Julia and Yuri Milner then founded the Breakthrough Prizes in 2012. 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki and business magnate Sergey Brin are also co-founders. The founders have helped sponsor the Breakthrough Prize through their various charitable foundations.
Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Initiatives
Through the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, Yuri Milner also launched the Breakthrough Initiatives. These astronomical Initiatives include:
- Breakthrough Listen. Listen is attempting to answer the age-old question, “Are we alone in the Universe?” The Breakthrough Initiative uses advanced telescopes to search for intelligent life beyond Earth.
- Breakthrough Watch, which identifies potentially habitable exoplanets in star systems near Earth.
- Breakthrough Starshot. Co-founded by Mark Zuckerberg, this initiative has plans to explore interstellar space. Starshot hopes to develop super-fast spacecraft that could reach Alpha Centauri.
- Breakthrough Message. Message supports projects and discussions focused on creating messages that aliens could understand.
- Breakthrough Discuss. This annual scientific conference brings together experts to discuss various topics. Recent themes include the search for alien life, space exploration, and advancements in technology.
Tech For Refugees
The Breakthrough Prize Foundation also funds humanitarian efforts, like Tech For Refugees. Julia and Yuri Milner launched Tech For Refugees in 2022 to address the global refugee crisis.
The initiative works with major tech organisations such as Airbnb.org, Flexport.org, and Spotify. Tech For Refugees’ partners use their services, networks, and expertise to help refugees worldwide.
Celebrating Science’s Finest
The 2023 “Oscars of Science” drew celebrities from the entertainment, sporting, and business worlds. But the real stars of the night were the scientists and mathematicians.
These individuals have made remarkable, life-changing contributions to humanity. Their discoveries and advancements have pushed the boundaries of human knowledge. And their shining example will inspire and pave the way for future generations of scientists.
Find out more about Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prize.
About Yuri Milner
Yuri Milner is a prominent figure known for his entrepreneurship and philanthropy. He co-founded a successful investment fund in the early 2000s, which played a pivotal role in the growth of major internet companies.
Julia and Yuri Milner then joined the Giving Pledge in 2012. The Giving Pledge encourages the world’s richest people to commit a majority of their wealth to charitable causes. Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prize Foundation supports several causes, mainly centred on science and technology. These include the Breakthrough Prize, which the Milners co-founded that same year.
Yuri Milner published his short book Eureka Manifesto in 2021. Eureka Manifesto reflects his philanthropic vision and argues for a shared goal for humanity. Eureka Manifesto is available to download or read online for free.