Three Industry-Changing Developments That Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prize Has Celebrated

The founding sponsors of the Breakthrough Foundation — Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, and Julia and Yuri Milner — recently announced the 2023 Breakthrough Prize laureates. Sometimes called “the Oscars of Science,” the $3 million prizes celebrate the world’s top researchers for their game-changing discoveries in Mathematics, Life Sciences, and Fundamental Physics.

Here, we’ll reveal the latest laureates, explore three previous discoveries that the Breakthrough Prize has celebrated, and explain the connection between the awards and Yuri Milner’s Giving Pledge.

2023 Breakthrough Prizes

The 2023 Breakthrough Prize honored incredible advances in science and math, from neurodegenerative disease breakthroughs to quantum computing.

Three Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences went to:

  1. Clifford P. Brangwynne and Anthony A. Hyman, for discovering a new mechanism of cellular organization.
  2. Demis Hassabis and John Jumper, for developing AlphaFold, an accurate protein-structure prediction system.
  3. Emmanuel Mignot and Masashi Yanagisawa, whose discovery of the cause of narcolepsy has led to treatments that relieve the condition’s symptoms.

The Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics went to Daniel A. Spielman for his contributions to theoretical computer science and math, including his work on the Kadison-Singer problem.

Gilles Brassard, David Deutsch, Peter W. Shor, and Charles H. Bennett shared the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. The four physicists’ foundational work on quantum cryptography, teleportation, and computation paved the way for quantum computers.

Beyond the main awards, New Horizons Prizes in Physics and Mathematics and the Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes recognized research from early-career scientists and mathematicians.

Yuri Milner’s Giving Pledge: Funding Scientific Brilliance

Alongside the Breakthrough Initiatives and the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, the Breakthrough Prize demonstrates Julia and Yuri Milner’s commitment to supporting scientific brilliance. The Milners made this commitment in 2012 when they joined the Giving Pledge.

Signed by ultra-rich individuals like Warren Buffett and Elon Musk, the Giving Pledge represents a lifelong promise to donate to charitable causes.

Through co-founding and sponsoring the Breakthrough Prize, Yuri Milner’s investment has seen dozens of the world’s leading minds celebrated for their contributions to science.

Three industry-changing discoveries the awards have recognized include those by Shinya Yamanaka, Terence Tao, and Nathan Seiberg.

Stem Cells

Shinya Yamanaka was one of several winners of the first Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences in 2013. The researcher discovered the precise set of genetic triggers that can turn adult cells back into “pluripotent stem cells,” which are capable of producing virtually any other type of cell.

Previously, stem cell research had been controversial since it required the use of embryos. Yamanaka’s discovery opened tantalizing possibilities for growing damaged tissue from stem cells without ethical difficulty.

Prime Numbers

A 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics laureate, Terence Tao is a particularly acclaimed mathematician due to his contributions to several fields, including number theory.

Often applied in cryptography and coding, number theory concerns positive whole numbers (integers). Tao proved it’s possible to find every odd integer above one by adding together five prime numbers or fewer. He also discovered it’s possible to find equally spaced progressions of primes (like 3, 7, and 11), of any length, within the infinite series of integers.

Quantum Theories

One of nine inaugural laureates who won the 2012 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, Nathan Seiberg has completed work that has revolutionized our understanding of string theory and quantum field theory.

While many physicists suspect that our current model of known particles is incomplete, the idea of “supersymmetry” could provide a solution. In this theory, each particle has an unknown “superpartner.” Seiberg discovered profound relationships between different supersymmetric theories that have led to new insights with fundamental applications in physics and math.

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