In early 2013, billionaire Russian tech investor Yuri Milner set out to place more of a spotlight on those helping to advance to society through the sciences.
“For better or worse, our world is driven by celebrities in sports and entertainment,” Milner told Bloomberg. “But celebrities in science are probably not in the top 200 or 300, and that’s completely out of balance to the kind of relative contributions these people make.”
To help elevate these science pioneers, Milner joined forces with tech titans like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Sergey Brin to create the Breakthrough Prizes. On Sunday night, the best of Silicon Valley and a host of celebrities came out to celebrate and award grants worth $36 million to 60 biologists, physicists and mathematicians. It was a glitzy affair, akin to a major Hollywood event, with Seth MacFarlane hosting and presenters such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Diaz, Kate Beckinsale and Elon Musk. Even Christina Aguilera was on hand to perform her hit "Beautiful."
"If I could snap my fingers and do one thing in science, I would get more funding for basic science," said Zuckerberg, noting that what's really needed is billions in funding. "It’s really the type of thing that only governments can fund. I feel like the thing we can do is celebrate people doing great work and create more cultural momentum and awareness that this is an important thing in the world. So when the next economic crisis hits and people are talking about where to cut from the budget, science isn’t the thing."
Examples of the awards and the recipients from the Breakthrough Prize website include:
Alim Louis Benabid of Joseph Fourier University for the discovery and pioneering work on the development of high-frequency deep brain stimulation (DBS), which has revolutionized the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
Jennifer Doudna of University of California, Berkeley, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Emmanuelle Charpentier of Helmholtz Center for Infection Research and Umeå University, for harnessing an ancient mechanism of bacterial immunity into a powerful and general technology for editing genomes, with wide-ranging implications across biology and medicine. Each received a $3 million award.
The fundamental physics prize was awarded to a team of people for the most unexpected discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, rather than slowing as had been long assumed.
The awards will be televised Nov. 15 on the Discovery Channel and the Science Channel. To learn more about the winners, hit the official site here.
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