November 9, 2015
The Breakthrough Prize: $22 Million In Science Prizes

Often in our modern culture, science takes a back seat to celebrity babies and reality TV star DUIs, but the Breakthrough Prize aims to change that. With nearly $22 million in prize money ($21.9 million to be precise) given out in seven $3 million chunks (in this year's case, one prize was split 1,300 ways), the Breakthrough Prize is a huge incentive to those in the science and technology fields. It also gives the best and brightest minds the opportunity to be treated with the respect and adulation they deserve. The award ceremony is known to rival the Oscars in glitz and glamour. Sunday night's rendition, hosted by Seth MacFarlane, didn't disappoint, according to the New York Times.

The Breakthrough Prize gala featured celebrities and recipients dressed to the nines, entertainment by Pharrell Williams, food by French Laundry's Thomas Keller, and appearances by Hillary Swank and Russell Crow, among others.

The Breakthrough Prize is the brainchild of some of today's biggest science and tech names. Founders of the Breakthrough Prize include Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, of Facebook, Sergey Brin of Google, internet entrepreneur Yuri Milner, and Anne Wojcicki of 23andme, among others.

Yuri Milner started the Breakthrough Prize dynasty back in 2012, when he announced his plan to begin awarding $3 million "prizes" to nine theoretical physicists, the best and brightest of the field. His reasoning: Physicists are more valuable than rock stars, and they deserve to be paid and celebrated on the level of celebrities. Now that the sponsor list and support for the Breakthrough Prize have grown, the prize money is being doled out to professionals in mathematical and life science fields, too. Recipients of each year's prize money are determined by previous year's winners.

MacFarlane Hosts
[Photo Courtesy of Steve Jennings/Getty Images]

In keeping with the idea of treating scientists like celebrities, the Breakthrough Prize award ceremony is handled like the biggest entertainment ceremonies in the industry.

"By challenging conventional thinking and expanding knowledge over the long term, scientists can solve the biggest problems of our time. The Breakthrough Prize honors achievements in science and math so we can encourage more pioneering research and celebrate scientists as the heroes they truly are."

While the Breakthrough Prize ceremony gala is all glitter and huge prize money, the underlying theme is as serious as it can be. Namely, treating the science that powers our world and defines our advancement at a species with at least as much recognition and respect as we give to people who produce the entertainment we enjoy.

The winners at the 2016 Breakthrough Prize ceremony have certainly been positive influences on our society in a myriad of ways, even though their names aren't familiar to most. Yet, at least. This year's winners include the following extraordinary minds.

John Hardy

John won the Breakthrough Prize in the Life Science category for his work in the field of Alzheimer's research. His research advancements include finding a definitive genetic connection to the incurable, debilitating disease.

Breakthrough Prize
[Photo Courtesy of Kimberly White/Getty Images]

Karl Deisseroth and Edward S. Boyden

This pair won also won $3 million Breakthrough Prizes in Life Science for their development of Optogenetics. This highly specialized field, still in its infancy, allows scientists to turn neurons on and off in the brain with nothing more than light. The technology has potentially limitless applications when it comes to determining specific brain processes and function.

Svante Paabo

Paabo won his Breakthrough Prize for his work in evolutionary genetics. He has done more to trace the ancient human genome than anyone in modern science. He and his team determined that modern humans and Neanderthals interbred at least two times prior to the extinction of Neanderthals 40,000 years ago.

Helen Hobbs

Helen Hobbs received a Breakthrough Prize for her work in cholesterol research, specifically in a mutation in the PCSK9 gene.

Helen Hobbs, Breakthrough Prize Winner
[Image Courtesy of Kimberly White/Getty Images]

Ian Agol

Agol won a Breakthrough Prize for his work in mathematics. He won for "spectacular contributions to low-dimensional topology and geometric group theory, including work on the solutions of the tameness, virtual Haken and virtual fibering conjectures."

Neutrino Hunters (Split over 1,300 ways)

The Fundamental Physics prize was awarded to an entire scientific community including over 1,300 particle physicists who worked over the last 20 years investigating neutrinos.

Overall, the Breakthrough Prize award bash was a fitting and often overlooked homage to the science community that drives the progress of our modern world. One can only hope we see more funding, awareness, and excitement about the Breakthrough Prize and others like it in the future.

[Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images]