For the 11th consecutive year, the Breakthrough Prize and its founding sponsors — Israeli entrepreneur Yuri Milner and his wife Julia, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, Sergey Brin, and Anne Wojcicki — have announced the winners of the prestigious science awards.
Renowned as the “Oscars of Science” for its glamorous awards ceremony and multi-million dollar prizes, the Breakthrough Prize recognizes the work of the world’s top scientists in the fields of Fundamental Physics, Life Sciences, and Mathematics, along with early-career researchers who have made significant contributions to their disciplines. The Breakthrough Prize represents a considerable part of the Milners’ Giving Pledge commitment to science philanthropy, celebrating the achievements of great minds and inspiring the next generation of scientists.
The Breakthrough Prize annual gala award ceremony is a major televised event that honors new laureates, introduces them to the public, and features short films about their groundbreaking work. The ceremony also features celebrity appearances and live music from world-famous artists. Alongside the star-studded evening, the ceremony schedule includes a full-day symposium and a program of lectures for general audiences to get acquainted with the winning ideas.
This year, the Breakthrough Prize has awarded a total of $15.75 million in prize money, with each 2023 Breakthrough Prize laureate receiving $3 million.
In addition to the main prizes, six early-career researchers who have made a substantial impact on their fields have received New Horizons Prizes in Physics and Mathematics, each worth $100,000.
On top of this, three women mathematicians who have recently completed PhDs and produced impressive work have received Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes, each worth $50,000.
This year, six individuals received Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences:
● Clifford P. Brangwynne (of Princeton University, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Marine Biological Laboratory) and Anthony Hyman (of Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics) for their discovery of a fundamental cellular organization mechanism mediated by phase separation of proteins and RNA into membraneless liquid droplets.
● DeepMind’s Demis Hassabis and John Jumper, for their radical deep learning AI technique that can predict the three-dimensional structure of proteins from their amino acid sequence.
● Emmanuel Mignot (of Stanford University School of Medicine) and Masashi Yanagisawa (of the University of Tsukuba), for their groundbreaking insight into the cause of narcolepsy that can now make way for the development of new treatments for sleep disorders.
The 2023 Breakthrough Prizes in Fundamental Physics go to Charles H. Bennett, of IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center; Gilles Brassard, from the University of Montreal; David Deutsch, of Oxford University; and Peter W. Shor, of MIT, for their foundational work in the field of quantum information.
Yale University’s Daniel A. Spielman received the 2023 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics for his innovative contributions to theoretical computer science and mathematics, including areas like coding theory, numerical linear algebra, optimization, the Kadison-Singer problem, and spectral graph theory.
This year, three New Horizons in Physics Prizes went to eight physicists:
● David Simmons-Duffin, of Caltech, for developing analytical and numerical methods for studying conformal field theories, such as those that describe the superfluid phase transition and liquid-vapor critical point.
● Anna Grassellino, of Fermilab, for discovering substantial performance enhancements to niobium superconducting radio-frequency cavities.
● Hannes Bernien, from the University of Chicago; Manuel Endres, of Caltech; Adam M. Kaufman, from JILA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the University of Colorado; Kang-Kuen Ni, of Harvard University; Hannes Pichler, from the University of Innsbruck and Austrian Academy of Sciences; and Jeff Thompson, of Princeton University, for developing optical tweezer arrays to obtain control of individual atoms with multiple valuable applications.
The three 2023 New Horizons in Mathematics Prizes winners are:
● Ana Caraiani, from Imperial College London and the University of Bonn, for her transformative contributions to the Langlands program.
● Ronen Eldan, of Weizmann Institute of Science and Microsoft Research, for creating the stochastic localization method that has helped advance several open problems in high-dimensional geometry and probability.
● James Maynard, of Oxford University and the Institute for Advanced Study, for several contributions to analytic number theory, especially prime number distribution.
The three 2023 Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes have gone to:
● Maggie Miller, of Stanford University and Clay Mathematics Institute, who completed her Ph.D. at Princeton University in 2020, for her work on fibered ribbon knots and surfaces in four-dimensional manifolds.
● Jinyoung Park, of Stanford University, who completed her Ph.D. at Rutgers University in 2020, for her work resolving several major conjectures on selector processes and thresholds.
● Vera Traub, from the University of Bonn, who completed her Ph.D. there in 2020, for furthering approximation results in classical combinatorial optimization problems, such as the traveling salesman problem.
When you think of the world’s most influential figures today, any number of business entrepreneurs, sports personalities, singers, and actors might come to mind, but perhaps not too many scientists or mathematicians.
10 years ago, in his Giving Pledge letter, Yuri Milner vowed to change this. Yuri Milner and his wife Julia joined the Giving Pledge, Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates’ philanthropic campaign, on a mission to dedicate at least half of their combined significant wealth — several billion earned through successful technology and internet investment — to scientific causes.
“In my opinion, scientific brilliance is currently under-capitalized,” Yuri Milner declared when he signed the Giving Pledge. “And along with financial capital comes cultural capital: Why shouldn’t scientific superstars have the same power to inspire as their peers in art, media, and sport?” The billionaire philanthropist describes each of the Breakthrough Prize winners as “leaders.” Of the 2023 laureates, he describes their embodiment of the power of science “both to reveal deep truths about the Universe and to improve human lives.”
Yuri Milner’s passion for championing scientists comes from his close relationship with, and passion for, the subject. As a child in the 1960s, against the backdrop of the space race, he read Iosif Shklovsky and Carl Sagan’s book Intelligent Life in the Universe, lighting a fire for the topic that would continue to burn throughout his lifetime.
Though he soon discovered that he was better suited as a business entrepreneur than a scientist, after decades of investing in technology and internet companies, Yuri Milner also began investing in scientists when he launched the first Fundamental Physics Prize in 2012. Over the last decade, the total amount awarded to pioneering scientists and mathematicians stands at just under $300 million.
Yuri Milner is an Israeli investor who specializes in technology and science. He is best known as the founder of DST Global and the mind behind the Breakthrough Foundation.
Pursuing an education first in science and then in business, in the late nineties Yuri Milner established one of the top internet companies in Europe. Later, he founded DST Global to focus on global internet investments. The company found stratospheric success with prominent clients like Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb, and Alibaba.
Yuri Milner began his career as a theoretical physicist, and he remains passionate about science. Described by Stephen Hawking as “something of a visionary,” Yuri Milner and his wife created the Breakthrough Foundation in 2012 to raise the profile of scientists, bring awareness of scientific endeavors to the general public, and inspire children to engage with the subject. The Breakthrough Foundation powers the Breakthrough Prize, the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, and the Breakthrough Initiatives.