MOSCOW, November 10 (Sputnik) – Science usually does not make its practitioners rich, but not when it comes to the Breakthrough Prize, the world largest scientific award in terms of money, the Guardian reported.
The Breakthrough Prizes, 12 in all, totaling $36 million, were given to more than 60 biologists, physicists and mathematicians on Sunday. Eleven scientists were honored with a $3 million Breakthrough award each, while a Nobel Prize winner receives $1.2 million.
The ceremony was held at a refurbished hangar at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California and was hosted by Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy and movie director.
The award jury is comprised of former winners and leaders in their fields. The organizers said that the long term goal is to have the winners chosen entirely by former laureates.
The biomedical award was given to Jennifer Doudna of the US and Emmanuelle Charpentier of German for unravelling the mystery of a microbial defense mechanism known as Crispr/Cas9, which protects bacteria from virus attacks.
What started as fundamental research led to the development of a technique which could be used for rewriting genomes, including human DNA, and replacing damaged genes with healthy ones.
Four more biologists landed awards of $3 million each.
France’s Alim Louis Benabid was rewarded for developing a deep brain stimulation procedure, which has revolutionized the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
Americans C David Allis, Victor Ambros and Gary Ruvkun were honored for their work on gene regulation, including in cancer and other diseases.
The breakthrough Prize in fundamental physics went to Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess and their 48 colleagues for the discovery that the expanding of the universe is accelerating. The same project earned Perlmutter, Schmidt and Riess the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics.
This year became the inaugural for mathematics. Five of the world’s leading mathematicians received awards for work ranging from algebraic geometry to analytic number theory. The names of the winners were announced earlier this year.
Organizers said that in future, only one prize a year will be awarded to a mathematician, according to Reuters.
"Mathematics is the foundation of technology and innovation today. It's really important for us to reward the brilliant insights of mathematicians that are helping shape our future," Zuckerberg noted.
Besides the awards of $3 million worth, there are two separate sets of smaller awards – Physics Frontiers and New Horizon in Physics Prize.
The award began in 2012 when Russian billionaire venture capitalist Yuri Milner launched the Fundamental Physics Prize. The nine winners received a total of $27 million. In 2013, he joined forces with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Sergei Brin and Jack Ma, founder of Ali Baba Group, to fund similar awards in math and the life sciences.
Milner, a onetime physics PhD student in Moscow, said that his aim was to bring more to the importance of fundamental science, according to USA Today.
"For better or worse, our world is driven by celebrities in sports and entertainment," Milner said as quoted by Bloomberg Businessweek. "But celebrities in science are probably not in the top 200 or 300, and that’s completely out of balance to the kind of relative contributions these people make."
While, most Nobel awards are given to researches nearing the end of their career, the Breakthrough prizes target young scientists. Those who have received the prizes have set up educational programs in Africa and funds for struggling junior scientists. The award has their critics, according to the Guardian. Some of them argue that the large sums of money — $100 million so far – could do more for science in the forms of grants in the developing world of funds for new projects.