Archive for the ‘Annual Breakthrough Prize’ Category

Science luminaries speak at Breakthrough Symposium – Livestream available

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

UPDATED on 11/7/2018

Angelika Amon wins 2019 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences

Four other MIT researchers to receive New Horizons Prizes in math and physics; two alumni win Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

Anne Trafton | MIT News Office
October 17, 2018

Angelika Amon, an MIT professor of biology, is one of five scientists who will receive a 2019 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, given for transformative advances toward understanding living systems and extending human life.

Amon, the Kathleen and Curtis Marble Professor in Cancer Research and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, was honored for her work in determining the consequences of aneuploidy, an abnormal chromosome number that results from mis-segregation of chromosomes during cell division.

The award, announced this morning, comes with a $3 million prize.

“Angelika Amon is an outstanding choice to receive the Breakthrough Prize,” says Tyler Jacks, director of the Koch Institute and the David H. Koch Professor of Biology. “Her work on understanding how cells control the decisions to divide and the effects of imbalances in chromosome number has helped shape how we think about normal development and disease. Angelika is a fearless investigator and a true scientist’s scientist. All of us in the Koch Institute and across MIT are thrilled by this news.”

Two MIT alumni, Charles Kane PhD ’89 and Eugene Mele PhD ’78, both professors at the University of Pennsylvania, will share a Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. Kane and Mele are being recognized for their new ideas about topology and symmetry in physics, leading to the prediction of a new class of materials that conduct electricity only on their surface.




Complete List of 2019 Winners Breakthrough Prize

Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Breakthrough Prize

  • C. Frank Bennett and Adrian R. Krainer – Ionis Pharmaceuticals and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
    Citation: For the development of an effective antisense oligonucleotide therapy for children with the neurodegenerative disease spinal muscular atrophy.
  • Angelika Amon – Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute
    Citation: For determining the consequences of aneuploidy, an abnormal chromosome number resulting from chromosome mis-segregation.
  • Xiaowei Zhuang – Harvard University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute
    Citation: For discovering hidden structures in cells by developing super-resolution imaging, a method that transcends the fundamental spatial resolution limit of light microscopy.
  • Zhijian “James” Chen – University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Howard Hughes Medical Institute
    Citation: For elucidating how DNA triggers immune and autoimmune responses from the interior of a cell through the discovery of the DNA-sensing enzyme cGAS.

Breakthrough Prize In Fundamental Physics

  • Charles Kane and Eugene Mele – University of Pennsylvania
    Citation: For new ideas about topology and symmetry in physics, leading to the prediction of a new class of materials that conduct electricity only on their surface.

Breakthrough Prize In Mathematics

  • Vincent Lafforgue – CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research, France) and Institut Fourier, Université Grenoble Alpes
    Citation: For ground breaking contributions to several areas of mathematics, in particular to the Langlands program in the function field case.

Special Breakthrough Prize In Fundamental Physics

  • Jocelyn Bell Burnell – University of Dundee and University of Oxford
    Citation: For fundamental contributions to the discovery of pulsars, and a lifetime of inspiring leadership in the scientific community.

Press Release From: Breakthrough Prize Foundation
Posted: Sunday, November 4, 2018

Winners of 2019 Breakthrough Prize Will Lead Discussions on Cutting-Edge Research with Inspiring TED-Style Talks


WHAT:          The 2019 Breakthrough Prize Symposium, held the day after the Breakthrough

Prize Awards ceremony, will feature both current and former laureates leading TED-style talks on cutting-edge science research initiatives and the significance and future of scientific discovery.

Topics include abnormal chromosomes and their role in cancer and potential use as a therapeutic target; exploring radio bursts and what’s going on in the stars; algebraic geometry and the Langlands Program; and discussing RNA splicing as a target for the next generation of precision medicines.

Dr. Jennifer Doudna, 2015 Breakthrough Prize Laureate and leader in the CRISPR revolution, will present “Recoding Life: The Future of Genome Editing.”

The event will conclude with three cross-disciplinary panel discussions between laureates past and present, about broad philosophical subjects around science and technology.  The topics of this year’s discussions include: ‘Is there (intelligent) life in the Universe?’; ‘What are the limits of science?’; and ‘Is time travel possible?’.

For a detailed schedule of the program, visit https://breakthroughprize2019.berkeley.edu/  

WHEN:        Monday, November 5, 2018

                     Pauley Ballroom, MLK Student Union

UC Berkeley

The presentations will be streamed live via YouTube (see program for URLs) and Facebook Live. 

Breakthrough Prize Laureate Talks

9:30AM – 5:00PM PST

Evening Cross-Disciplinary Panel

5:30PM – 7:00 PM PST





 (9:30AM – 5:00PM PST)

10:30 AM – Abnormal Chromosome Number: it’s Role in Cancer and Potential as a Therapeutic

Angelika Amon, 2019 Laureate

10:55 AM – Envisaging the Emergence of Quantum Topological Matter     

Charles Kane, 2019 Laureate


11:20 AM – Recoding Life: The Future of Genome Editing              

Jennifer Doudna, 2015 Laureate

11:45 AM – Some Open Problems in Algebraic Geometry and the Langlands Program

Vincent Lafforgue, 2019 Laureate

12:10 PM – RNA Splicing as a Target for the Next Generation of Precision Medicines       

Adrian R. Krainer, 2019 Laureate

1:35 PM – Biomaterials and How They Will Change our Lives        

Robert Langer, 2014 Laureate

2:00 PM – Imaging the Invisible in Living Organisms –– Current State of the Art and Future         

Xiaowei Zhuang, 2019 Laureate

2:25 PM – The Winding Road from Topological Insulators  

Gene Mele, 2019 Laureate

2:50 PM – Inflammation 2030 – Modern Disease Caused by an Old Flame 

James Chen, 2019 Laureate

3:45 PM – Seeking a Computer-free Proof of the 4-Color Theorem

Ian Agol, 2016 Laureate

4:10 PM – Genetic Medicines: Present and Future   

Frank Bennett, 2019 Laureate

5:00 PM – Radio Bursts!  What’s Going on Amongst the Stars?

Jocelyn Bell Burnell, 2018 Laureate


(5:30 – 7:00PM PST)

Is there (intelligent) life in the Universe?

Featuring Jocelyn Bell, Astronomy, 2018 Laureate; John Hardy, Neuroscience, 2017 Laureate; and Kim Nasmyth, Molecular Biology, 2018 Laureate

Astronomers have been looking for life beyond Earth for decades, but have so far found nothing. But the recent discovery that almost all stars probably host planets may have changed the game. How likely are we to find primitive life? How hard is it to get from cells to brains? And why have we not seen evidence of civilizations?

What are the limits of science?

Featuring Andrei Linde, Theoretical Physics, Cosmology – 2012 Laureate; Gary Ruvkun, Molecular Biology, Genetics, 2015 Laureate; and  Xiaowei Zhuang, Biophysics, 2019 Laureate


Science has shown us a universe more and more distant from our familiar world: at microscopic and cosmic scales, at the dawn of time and remote stages of evolutionary history. But is this process limitless? What are the furthest and smallest physical and biological objects we can see? Can we ever know what happened at the moment of the Big Bang? And how far back can we retrace the origin of life on Earth?

Is time travel possible?

Nima Arkani-Hamed, Theoretical Physics, 2012 Laureate; Daniel Harlow, Theoretical Physics,  2019 Laureate; Daniel Jafferis, Theoretical Physics,  2019 Laureate; and Aron Wall, Theoretical Physics, 2019 Laureate


Time travel is a staple of science fiction, but how does mainstream science see it? Is it forbidden by the laws of physics? And if not, could it ever be a practical possibility? And do scientists even agree about what time is?

MEDIA OPPORTUNITIES: All events are free and open to the media, but seating is limited. Please RSVP to Kristen Bothwell /kbothwell@rubenstein.com / 212-843-9227; or Emily Gest / egest@rubenstein.com / 917-690-7823.

The Breakthrough Prize Symposium partners include Stanford University, the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of California, Berkeley.

The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences honors transformative advances toward understanding living systems and extending human life. The Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics honors the world’s best mathematicians who have contributed to major advances in the field. The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics recognizes major insights into the deepest questions of the Universe.

For more information on the Breakthrough Prize, visit https://breakthroughprize.org.

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5th annual Breakthrough Prize – Science Superstars in three categories: life sciences, fundamental physics, and mathematics.

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

December 05, 2016

Breakthrough Prize Marks 5th Anniversary Celebrating Top Achievements In Science And Awards More Than $25 Million In Prizes At Gala Ceremony In Silicon Valley

Since its inception in 2012, the Breakthrough Prize has awarded nearly $200 million in sum, culled from foundations from the founders of Google, 23andme, Facebook, and DST Global:

“Founded by Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, the Breakthrough Prize aims to celebrate science and scientists and generate excitement about the pursuit of science as a career. The prizes are funded by the Brin Wojcicki Foundation; Mark Zuckerberg’s fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation; and the Milner Global Foundation.”

These aren’t the kind of numbers researchers are used to. As Silicon Valley charges ahead in private scientific pursuits ranging from bold to outright reckless, the legacy scientific community trudges patiently along, just as it always has. Circumventing all of those pesky grant applications and pleas for government funding, the Breakthrough Prize seeks to pump some rocket fuel into meaningful science research being done the old fashioned way.

Like last year, the main awards honor veteran researchers in three categories:

  • life sciences,
  • fundamental physics, and
  • mathematics

Here are this year’s winners:

Life Sciences winners (individual $3 million prizes)

  • Stephen J. Elledge, Gregor Mendel Professor of Genetics and Medicine in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, for his work investigating how damage detection proteins gives rise to mutated DNA replication, leading to increased cancer risk.
  • Harry F. Noller, Director of the Center for Molecular Biology of RNA at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for connecting the dots between RNA’s central role in the ribosome and the origin of life.
  • Roeland Nusse, Professor of Developmental Biology at Stanford University and Investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for his work exploring the Wnt gene pathway and its implications in cancer.
  • 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, Yoshinori Ohsumi, Honorary Professor, Institute of Innovative Research at Tokyo Institute of Technology, for his investigation of the process of autophagy, a means by which cells recycle their own components to create nutrients.
  • Huda Yahya Zoghbi, Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics, Molecular and Human Genetics, Neurology and Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine, for her work discovering the biological underpinnings of spinocerebellar ataxia and Rett syndrome.

Fundamental Physics winners

The three recipients will share a single $3 million award recognizing their meaningful advances in string theory, quantum field theory, and quantum gravity.

  • Joseph Polchinski, Professor in the Department of Physics and Member of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Andrew Strominger, Director of the Center for the Fundamental Laws of Nature at Harvard University
  • Cumrun Vafa, Donner Professor of Science in the Department of Physics at Harvard University

Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics 

Originally announced earlier in 2016, these three winners will share a single $1 million prize, with $2 million divided among their 1,012 members of their research group. The special award, which “can be conferred at any time in recognition of an extraordinary scientific achievement,” recognizes the team’s collaborative research on gravitational waves and its implications for physics and astronomy.

  • Ronald Drever, Professor of Physics Emeritus at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena
  • Kip Thorne, Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena 
  • Rainer Weiss, Professor of Physics Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge

Mathematics winner (single $3 million prize)

Jean Bourgain, IBM Von Neumann Professor in the Department of Mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, for his many contributions to high-dimensional geometry, number theory, and many other theoretical contributions.


Breakthrough Junior Challenge

A final prize, the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, honors students with an “original science video [that] brings to life an important scientific or mathematical idea or principle,” to the tune of $250,000, with additional prize money for their teachers and schools.

  • Deanna See (age 17, Singapore): “Superbugs! And Our Race Against Resistance”
  • Antonella Masini (age 18, Peru): “Quantum Entanglement”




These science superstars just won the 2017 Breakthrough Prize

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