Breakthrough Prizes in science, math earn winners $3 million each

Mon Nov 10, 2014 11:39am EST
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By Sarah McBride

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Academia doesn't usually bring rich financial rewards.

But that changed Sunday for recipients of a record 12 Breakthrough Prizes, the award created two years ago by Russian billionaire venture capitalist Yuri Milner, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and other tech industry luminaries. Each prize is worth $3 million, almost three times the cash a Nobel Prize winner receives.

This year is the first to honor mathematicians. Five won for work ranging from algebraic geometry to analytic number theory. In future, just one prize a year will go to a mathematician, organizers say; the large number Sunday celebrates the inaugural year for math.

Six prizes went to researchers in life sciences for discoveries in areas ranging from bacterial immunity to genetic regulation. The physics prize went to a group that showed the expansion of the universe was accelerating, not slowing as assumed.

The prizes' funders aim to generate a sense of excitement around scientific accomplishment, Milner said in an interview.

"We are trying to use all means available, including money, to get the message across," he said in an interview.

Milner, a onetime physics PhD student in Moscow who dropped out to move to the United States in 1990, has backed some of the world’s biggest technology companies, including Facebook.

Organizers threw some Hollywood razzle-dazzle into the mix. At the ceremony, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk chatted with actress Kate Beckinsale, while Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo sat by singer Christina Aguilera. Thomas Keller, chef of famed restaurant French Laundry, catered a meal including caviar appetizers and black-truffle lasagna.   Continued...

Entrepreneurs Brit and Dave Morin arrive on the red carpet during the 2nd annual Breakthrough Prize Award in Mountain View, California November 9, 2014. REUTERS/Stephen Lam