$22m awarded as part of tech industry backed Breakthrough Prize

9 Nov 2015

The winners of the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics and Mathematics were announced last night, with $22m being awarded to scientists from some of the biggest names in tech.

The Breakthrough Prize has quickly become the science community’s version of the Oscars, with representatives from the world of advanced science and technology taking the stage alongside Hollywood stars and musicians.

Providing the funding for the Awards is a real who’s who of the tech world, including Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan.

The first of the three major categories awarded saw five $3m prizes presented to representatives of the life sciences, including Edward S. Boyden (MIT); Karl Deisseroth (Stanford University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute); John Hardy (University College London); Helen Hobbs (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Howard Hughes Medical Institute), and Svante Pääbo (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology).

1,370 physicists split $3m prize

But perhaps one of the most interesting prizes awarded was for the physics prize, which saw 1,370 physicists be awarded a total pot of $3m for their work confirming the theory of neutrino oscillation, a phenomenon in quantum mechanics.

However, Reuters said that seven of the team leaders of the research projects will receive two-thirds of the $3m, leaving each of the 1,370 physicists receiving approximately $700 each.

And the final major category, for breakthroughs in the field of mathematics, saw University of California Berkeley’s Ian Agol awarded $3m for his work in geometric topology.

A $250,000 scholarship was awarded to 18-year-old Ryan Chester as part of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge award for his winning video depiction of Einstein’s theory of special relativity.

This also included $50,000 being awarded to Chester’s teacher and his school being given $100,000 to develop a state-of-the-art science lab.

$100,000 was also given to eight early-career physicists and mathematicians.

To get a sense of the amalgamation of science and celebrity culture that the Breakthrough Prize is, the award ceremony was hosted by Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane and awards were presented by Russell Crowe and Hilary Swank, among others.

Academic funding image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic