The biggest prize payday in science came around again Sunday evening when the Breakthrough Foundation handed out more than $25 million in its annual prizes to more than a thousand physicists, life scientists and mathematicians.
This year’s winners include five molecular biologists who won $3 million each for work in genetics and cell biology, one mathematician, a trio of string theorists who split one $3 million physics prize, and another 1,015 physicists working on the LIGO gravitational wave detector split a special $3 million physics prize. In addition, there were six smaller “New Horizons” prizes totaling $600,000 for 10 “early career” researchers, and a pair of high school students won $400,000 apiece for making science videos.
The Breakthrough Foundation was founded 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.
It sprang from Mr. Milner’s decision in 2012 to hand out $3 million apiece to nine theoretical physicists, in the belief that physicists are equal to rock stars and deserve to be paid and celebrated like them. Over the years, as more sponsors have joined, the prizes have spread to life sciences and mathematics. The winners each year are chosen by a committee of previous winners.
For the last few years, the awards have been given out in an Oscar-style ceremony held at NASA’s Ames Research Center, with a variety of Hollywood celebrities, who this year include Morgan Freeman, Alicia Keys and Jeremy Irons.