Remembering the Findings that Won Scientists Yuri Milner’s 2016 Breakthrough Prize

Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prize recently announced the 2023 winners across its three categories: Mathematics, Life Sciences, and Fundamental Physics. Widely referred to as “the Oscars of Science,” the Breakthrough Prize rewards top scientists and mathematicians with $3 million prizes at an annual awards ceremony in Silicon Valley.

After making their Giving Pledge in 2012, Yuri Milner and his wife Julia established the Breakthrough Prize to champion life-changing discoveries, celebrate scientific brilliance, and inspire future generations of scientists.

Here, we’ll recap the 2023 laureates and remember the findings that won scientists Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prize all the way back in 2016.

Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prizes

The Breakthrough Prizes are international awards that recognize groundbreaking achievements from the world’s leading scientists and mathematicians.

The Prize represents one element of Julia and Yuri Milner’s Giving Pledge commitment to science philanthropy. Other scientific projects connected to their Giving Pledge promise include the Breakthrough Initiatives and the Breakthrough Junior Challenge.

Established by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the Giving Pledge motivates wealthy individuals to dedicate generous contributions to charity.

2023 Breakthrough Prize Winners

Announced in fall 2022, the 2023 Breakthrough Prize laureates are:

  • David Deutsch, Peter W. Shor, Gilles Brassard, and Charles H. Bennett, who won the Fundamental Physics prize for their contributions over the last 30 years to the field of quantum information.
  • Daniel A. Spielman, won the Mathematics prize for his work in several areas, including finding a solution to the Kadison-Singer problem that spanned dozens of fields of math.
  • Masashi Yanagisawa and Emmanuel Mignot, Clifford P. Brangwynne and Anthony A. Hyman, and Demis Hassbis and John Jumper. These three duos each won a Life Sciences prize for finding the cause of narcolepsy, discovering a fundamental mechanism of cellular organization, and developing artificial intelligence (AI) that can predict the shape of a protein from its genetic sequence.

2016 Breakthrough Prize Laureates

In 2016, 13 industry-leading individuals received Breakthrough Prizes for their insights into key math, physics, and biology fields. From neutrinos to neanderthals, these are the discoveries that resulted in the 2016 laureates receiving their awards.

Neutrino Oscillation

Seven physicists who worked on five experiments investigating neutrino oscillation won the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. These physicists — Yoichiro Suzuki, Atsuto Suzuki, Kam-Biu Luk, Takaaki Kajita, Koichiro Nishikawa, Arthur B. McDonald, and Yifang Wang — revealed a new frontier beyond the Standard Model of particle physics.

Work has continued in this area between researchers at Japan’s T2K (Tokai-to-Kamioka) experiment and the University of Glasgow. Now, physicists have proposed that neutrinos could be the origin of all matter in the Universe.

Higher Dimensions

Ian Agol won the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics for his contributions to geometric group theory and low-dimensional topology. Agol proved two well-known conjectures regarding how shapes can seem flat in some dimensions and curved, or more complex, at a higher dimension. For example, the Earth’s surface seems flat at human scale but curved from space.

Agol continues to make waves in his profession: “Quanta Magazine” included the mathematician’s proof of a 1981 topology conjecture in its roundup of 2022’s biggest math breakthroughs.

Human Origins

Five scientists — Edward S. Boyden, Helen Hobbs, John Hardy, Karl Deisseroth, and Svante Pääbo — won four Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences for their research into optogenetics and other crucial aspects of human biology.

Pääbo also received the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He pioneered the sequencing of ancient DNA and the genomes of extinct hominins, including neanderthals. His trailblazing work has helped illuminate humans’ origins and evolution.