Some of the world's biggest Internet billionaires are at it again. Earlier this year Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, Yuri Milner, Arthur Levinson and Mark Zuckerberg announced the first winners of the Breakthrough Prize for Life Sciences, which awards top scientists $3 million each for their accomplishments. That's three times what scientists earn for winning the Nobel Prize. Now Zuckerberg and his tech cohorts have expanded the prize, announcing the new Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. Like the other Breakthrough prizes, the $3 million mathematics prizes come with no strings attached. Winners can use the funds for their research or in any other manner.
In announcing the newest prize, Facebook's Zuckerberg harkened back to the days when scientists were some of the world's biggest heroes. "In his time, Albert Einstein was celebrated as sort of a scientific rock star before there were actual rock stars," he said.
Meanwhile co-founder Yuri Milner — the Russian venture capitalist who has invested in many tech companies — described the need for the new prize: "Einstein said, 'Pure mathematics is the poetry of logical ideas.' It is in this spirit that Mark [Zuckerberg] and myself are announcing a new Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. The work that the prize recognizes could be the foundation for genetic engineering, quantum computing or artificial intelligence; but above all, for human knowledge itself." The Breakthrough prizes are a successor to the Fundamental Physics Prize, which Milner created in 2012.
The new mathematics prize was introduced at the same ceremony in which the seven newest Breakthrough Prize winners were also announced. The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics went to the team of Michael B. Green, from the University of Cambridge, and John H. Schwarz, from the California Institute of Technology, for "opening new perspectives on quantum gravity and the unification of forces." The duo will share the $3 million prize. Six people also received the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for their work researching diseases and extending human life. They include James Allison from the Anderson Cancer Center, Mahlon DeLong from Emory University, Michael Hall from the University of Basel, Robert Langer from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Richard Lifton from Yale University, and Alexander Varshavsky from the California Institute of Technology. Their achievements include new discoveries related to cancer, Parkinson's disease, cell growth control, drug-release systems, hypertension and intracellular protein degradation.
The ceremony was a red-carpet, black-tie event held at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. Kevin Spacey served as the emcee for the evening, while Glenn Close, Rob Lowe and Conan O'Brien were among the celebrities on hand. Physicist Stephen Hawking provided a video introduction to the ceremony. The event was taped by the Science Channel for broadcast in January.
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