Both Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prize and Breakthrough Junior Challenge made major announcements in September 2023. The Breakthrough Prize revealed its 2024 laureates and the Breakthrough Junior Challenge announced its 15 finalists for 2023.
The Breakthrough Prize will celebrate its latest winners at its tenth annual gala award ceremony on 13 April 2024 in Los Angeles. The event has gained a reputation as the “Oscars of Science” due to its celebrity presenters and attendees.
The winner of the 2023 Breakthrough Junior Challenge will also receive an invitation to attend the 2024 Breakthrough Prize ceremony. The star-studded event took place in Los Angeles for the first time in 2023. James Corden hosted the evening, which featured music from John Legend, Estelle, and will.i.am.
The Breakthrough Prize offers the biggest prizes in science and maths to researchers who have made remarkable advances in their fields. Founding sponsors Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan, Anne Wojcicki, and Julia and Yuri Milner created the Breakthrough Prize to celebrate the scientific achievements of today’s greatest minds.
The 2024 Breakthrough Prize laureates have contributed important work to a range of disciplines and made several impactful discoveries. In particular, the 2024 Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences honour individuals who have furthered how we understand and treat major diseases like cancer.
The 2024 Breakthrough Prize has awarded:
- Five Breakthrough Prizes ($3 million each). These prizes recognise remarkable achievements in Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics, and Mathematics.
- Three New Horizons in Physics Prizes and three New Horizons in Mathematics Prizes ($100,000 each). These prizes acknowledge the work of exceptional researchers early in their careers.
- Three Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes ($50,000 each). These prizes celebrate the early-career achievements of women mathematicians. To be eligible to receive the prize, these mathematicians must have completed their PhDs in the last two years.
The money awarded with the 2024 prizes adds up to $15.75 million. In total, the Breakthrough Prize has awarded $308 million to scientists and mathematicians since launching in 2012.
Eight individuals have won three Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences, advancing the fight against cancer, cystic fibrosis, and Parkinson’s disease:
- Carl June and Michel Sadelain developed chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell immunotherapy. This innovative therapy modifies a cancer patient’s T cells to target and destroy cancer cells. CAR T cells have high success rates against liquid cancers, including some varieties of lymphoma, myeloma, and leukaemia. Some patients have experienced the complete eradication of tumours which have not returned years after treatment.
- Sabine Hadida, Paul Negulescu, and Fredrick Van Goor developed transformative drug combinations that repair the faulty chloride channel protein in individuals with cystic fibrosis. These medicines are the first to treat cystic fibrosis’ underlying cause. By enabling the defective protein to function, the treatment ensures people with cystic fibrosis can enjoy improved lifespans and quality of life.
- Thomas Gasser, Ellen Sidransky, and Andrew Singleton identified GBA1 and LRRK2 as risk genes for Parkinson’s disease. This discovery suggests that the mechanisms causing the disease may lie with lysosomal biology and autophagy.
John Cardy and Alexander Zamolodchikov received the 2024 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. For years, the two physicists have contributed deep insights into quantum field theories.
These theories describe particle physics, emergent phenomena from magnetism and superconducting materials, and the information content of black holes. In addition, quantum field theories have become a rich area of mathematical research.
Simon Brendle won the 2024 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics for his outstanding contributions to differential geometry. Differential geometry uses calculus-based tools to study curves, spaces, and surfaces.
Many of Brendle’s results relate to the shape of surfaces and manifolds in higher dimensions.
Nine early-career physicists shared three New Horizons in Physics Prizes:
- Michael Johnson and Alexandru Lupsasca shed light on the universal characteristics and sub-structure of black hole photon rings (light trapped in black holes’ orbits). Johnson and Lupsasca also explained how to detect these rings in future interferometric experiments.
- Mikhail Ivanov, Oliver Philcox, and Marko Simonovi? contributed to our collective understanding of the Universe’s large-scale structure. The researchers also helped develop new tools to draw out fresh fundamental physics insights from galaxy surveys.
- Laura M. Pérez, Paola Pinilla, Nienke van der Marel, and Til Birnstiel predicted, discovered, and modelled dust traps in young circumstellar disks. In doing so, the physicists resolved a planet formation problem that had existed for a long time.
Three brilliant early-career mathematicians each won a 2024 New Horizons in Mathematics Prize:
- Roland Bauerschmidt made impressive contributions to probability theory and the renormalisation group. The renormalisation group emerged from Cardy and Zamolodchikov’s quantum field theories, and the concept has become an important subject of study in maths.
- Michael Groechenig produced insights into various areas of arithmetic geometry. These areas include rigid local systems and mirror symmetry.
- Angkana Rüland contributed to applied analysis, especially the analysis of microstructure in solid-solid phase transitions and the inverse problems theory.
Three women starting their careers in mathematics each received a Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize for their impressive work:
- Hannah Larson made advances in algebraic geometry, in particular Brill-Noether theory and the geometry of the moduli space of curves.
- Laura Monk furthered our understanding of random hyperbolic surfaces of large genus.
- Mayuko Yamashita contributed to mathematical physics and index theory.
2023 marks the ninth annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge. Julia and Yuri Milner launched the competition in 2015 to promote scientific ideas amongst young people and inspire the next generation of scientists.
Past winners of the competition have hailed from Peru, Singapore, India, Canada, Mauritius, the Philippines, and the U.S. Their videos have tackled tough topics like relativity, neutrinos, and quantum tunnelling.
This year’s Breakthrough Junior Challenge opened for applications in April 2023. More than 2,400 students aged 13-18 from all over the world entered the competition. They each created and submitted a short, creative video that illuminates a concept or theory in physics, maths, or life sciences.
Two rounds of judging — a mandatory Peer-to-Peer Review and an Evaluation Panel of judges — narrowed the thousands of submissions down to 30 semifinalists.
Next came the Popular Vote stage of the competition, which ran from 5-20 September. During these 16 days, members of the public voted for their favourite semifinalists by “liking” the 30 videos on the Breakthrough Prize Facebook and YouTube accounts.
More than 500,000 people took part in the Popular Vote. In addition to an overall top scorer, seven regional champions surfaced from this phase of judging.
The Popular Vote top scorer has now joined a group of 15 finalists. A Selection Committee will review and score these finalists and select up to five entries for final consideration. The committee includes preeminent university professors, Breakthrough Prize laureates, and active and retired astronauts.
Finally, the Breakthrough Junior Challenge will announce the overall winner for 2023. The successful young person will receive a $250,000 college scholarship and $50,000 for a teacher who inspired them. The winner’s school will also receive a cutting-edge science lab worth $100,000.
Yuri Milner is the co-founder of the Breakthrough Prize, the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, and the Breakthrough Initiatives. He and his wife Julia joined the Giving Pledge in 2012, making a formal commitment to science philanthropy. The couple’s Breakthrough Foundation helps organise and fund their various charitable projects.
The Milners have also founded Tech For Refugees, a non-profit that supports the use of technology to improve refugees’ lives.
Yuri Milner has written a short book: Eureka Manifesto: The Mission for Our Civilisation. Published in 2021, Eureka Manifesto explores the connection between humanity and the Universal story.