Last night, the science world's brightest dusted off their tuxes and dug out their heels for a star-studded night that is the scientific equivalent of the Oscars. Thirteen notable scientists won awards at this year's Breakthrough Prize ceremony. Winners included geneticists, mathematicians, physicists and 18-year-old Ryan Chester of North Royalton, Ohio, whose video explaining Einstein's Theory of Relativity will leave you feeling — well, humbled. (More on that in a second.)
The Breakthrough Prizes were first launched in 2012, when Yuri Milner, an Internet entrepreneur, announced plans to hand out roughly $9 million to nine theoretical physicists, noting that physicists deserved to be paid and treated like rock stars for their work. Shortly thereafter, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan joined Milner in sponsoring millions of dollars in prizes for scientists and mathematicians.
Last year's Breakthrough Prize ceremony awarded $36 million to top scientists and physicists. This year, Milner, Zuckerberg and Chan were joined by Sergey Brin of Google; Anne Wojcicki of 23andme; and Jack Ma of Alibaba and his wife, Cathy Zhang as sponsors of the event.
The awards ceremony — held at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California — was hosted by Seth MacFarlane and included entertainment and presentations from the likes of Pharrell, Russell Crowe and Hilary Swank.
And now for the winners...
- Stanford's Karl Deisseroth, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and Edward S. Boyden, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, each received $3 million for their roles in the development of optogenetics that used light to turn neurons on and off in the brain cells of mammals.
- John Hardy of the University of London unlocked a breakthrough in Alzheimer's research that may help doctors identify the disease earlier.
- Helen Hobbs of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, discovered gene variants in humans that alter the way cholesterol and lipids are distributed throughout the body.
- Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, sequenced ancient DNA and genomes and drew connections between modern humans and our Neanderthal ancestors.
- 1,300 physicists — including Takaaki Kajita, of the Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe in Tokyo and the Institute of Cosmic Ray Research; the Institute of Cosmic Ray Research's Yoichiro Suzuki, Yifang Wang, of the Institute for High Energy Physics; Kam-Biu Luk, of the University of California, at Berkeley; Koichiro Nishikawa, of the K2K Long-Baseline Neutrino Oscillation Experiment; Arthur B. McDonald, of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory Institute; and the KEK"s Atsuto Suzuki — won the prize as a team for their work investigating the neutrino, a teeny tiny star of the subatomic world.
- Mathematician Ian Agol of the University of California, Berkeley, for his work with geometric topology.
This year's ceremony also included the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, a competition that asked high school students to share their love of math and science in a video. The prize went to Chester, who submitted this simple yet comprehensive video explanation of Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity: