More than Nobel: can scientists make the stars

In the XXI century appeared several major research awards, challenging the traditional Nobel prize – they fill the gaps in the list of disciplines and banal paying more money. But only one of them puts a social purpose – to change the position of scientists in society, making them celebrities. It is awarded in early November, the Breakthrough Prize, which was invented in 2012 by Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner.

Photo: Breakthrough / Facebook

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The Nobel prize has been awarded since 1901, its size is determined by the status of the Nobel Foundation and the Swedish Krona exchange rate and fluctuates around one million dollars. Her first major follower award Shao – were first awarded in 2004. Founded its Hong Kong telemagnate Shao Yifu, its size was $1.2 million, and it is awarded for achievements in astronomy, life Sciences and mathematics. Next in the “premium race” joined the American businessman of Norwegian origin Fred Kavli – Kavli prize of one million dollars is awarded for achievements in astrophysics, nanotechnology and neuroscience.

Breakthrough Prize in this list is the youngest, but the largest scale, in 2012 each winner gets three million dollars for research in fundamental physics, life Sciences and mathematics.

Mark Zuckerberg, Yuri Milner, Anne Wolicki. Photo:

Such generosity defines a very impressive list of donors to the Fund. In addition to the Yuri Milner – one of the key figures in the history and now investor in Silicon valley, the Foundation is supported by mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and his wife Priscilla Chan, Sergey Brin (Google), and his ex-wife Anna Wolitski, Jack MA (founder of Alibaba) with his wife Cathy Zhang, and MA Huatan, a telecommunications Mogul from China and number four in the Forbes list of 2018. However, the laurels of the author of the award still belongs to Milner.

“Some people have Hobbies – yachts, and I have a prize for fundamental physics”

In 2012, when it had only been established the prize in physics, he explained his interest: “early in my career I was a physicist. (Milner graduated from the physical faculty of Moscow state University and for some time worked under the guidance of the future Nobel prize winner Vitaly Lazarevich Ginzburg in the Physical Institute named Lebedev – approx. the author.) Now theoretical physics is my hobby. I enjoy reading magazines in this area to know what happens in it, and the prize is a tribute to the fact that I gave science. Some people have Hobbies – yachts, and I have a prize for fundamental physics”.

Photo: Breakthrough / Facebook

About engagement of the Milner says that the first winners in mid-2012, Milner was chosen independently, and their scientific soundness is not in doubt even the most attentive critics. Accessible language to explain the work of Alexei Kitaev in the field of quantum computing, Andrei Linde in the dynamics of the Universe or Maxim Kontsevich in the mathematical foundations of theoretical physics is difficult, but it does not bother, but on the contrary, pleases the founder of the award.

Milner emphasizes that the role of fundamental physics in the development of science and human progress is very large, and his award is intended to mark this difficult to understandable sphere, whereas, for example, to receive the Nobel prize in physics, you must wait for experimental verification of the hypothesis, as was the case with the Higgs boson. Peter Higgs before the discovery survived, but some of his co-authors – no, and this imbalance of the Nobel prize repeatedly voiced its critics.

The first laureates have formed a program Committee award, which selects subsequent winners, and those in turn are included in this Committee. This scheme was applied in two other awards, Milner joined the above mentioned star investors. In February 2013, it was announced about organization of the award in the field of life Sciences in December – in the field of mathematics.


The main thing – to reward worthy

In addition to the amount and of a certain “theoretical voluntarism”, “Breakthroughs” (so to translate from English Breakthrough) is distinguished by the absence of restrictions on the number of winners. So, in 2013, a special award was presented from all the staff of the Large hadron Collider (and not Peter Higgs) for the discovery of the Higgs boson, in 2016, the same special (i.e. non-competitive) the award was issued to all the authors of the article about the discovery of gravitational waves (more than thousands).

Then, in 2013, was assigned to another distinctive feature of the award – in the good sense of the gloss. The first award ceremony was held in March 2012 at the international Congress center in Geneva. Led by none other than Morgan Freeman, spoke at the ceremony, Denis Matsuev and Sarah Brightman, and interview the winners took to live American public television PBS famous presenter Charlie rose.

Morgan Freeman at the awards ceremony. Photo: Breakthrough / Facebook

Since then, the ceremony moved to Silicon valley without compromising the level of leading: twice it was Freeman, and apart from him – Seth MacFarlane and Kevin spacey.

In 2018 the ceremony was led by pierce Brosnan as the star guests attended, Orlando bloom and Julianne Moore, and sang at the ceremony Lionel Richie. As a result of such manipulations on the prize wrote not only popular science publications and serious Newspapers like The Guardian, but also a lifestyle resources like or log on OK.

Pierce Brosnan at the ceremony. Photo: Breakthrough / Facebook

“In the top 300 world celebrities are no scientist. We live in a society where celebrities are athletes and people from the entertainment industry. I want to change that and make scientists celebrities,” said Yuri Milner.

He and his associates consider the prize and red carpet as one of the ways that can lead young people to a research career. The laureates agree with him.

“Before, when I spoke to the students, I told them: if you have the opportunity to avoid the fate of physics, do it. To be a physicist is to be a poet. You will not be able to stop writing poetry, it will hurt. Physics will bring you creativity, will bring you moral satisfaction, but will not bring money. I repeated it from year to year, but this year there was something new. I uttered this phrase, and the students laughed. And then I thought: they KNOW. Well, now, it seems, will have to change the phrase you can earn, doing theoretical physics,” said Andrei Linde in 2013.

The prize, of course, criticized – I think that’s too big and fame to the scientists is excessive. Note the inclusiveness of this year a special prize was awarded to Professor Jocelyn bell Burnell – the scientist almost officially considered bypassed the Nobel prize for the discovery of pulsars in 1974.

Jocelyn bell Burnell with the award. Photo: Breakthrough / Facebook

What is not questioned is the scientific level of the winners. The discussion of benefit or harm red carpet or diversity awarded must not be lost it is important to reward worthy. And while the award follows this principle, it performs all the other founders declared its mission.

Winners. Photo: Breakthrough / Facebook

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