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CAMERON DIAZ covers top BOFFINS in GOLD at Breakthrough Prizes

Benedict Cumberbatch, you really shouldn't have ...

By Brid-Aine Parnell, 10 Nov 2014

Cameron Diaz, Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Zuckerberg were among the assembled luminaries at NASA's Ames campus in Silicon Valley over the weekend – where techbiz titans and people paid to pretend to be boffins in the movies distributed $36m at the Breakthrough Prize ceremony.

The money was awarded by tech luminaries on the Breakthrough Prize Board including Zuckerberg, Jack Ma and Sergey Brin.

Tech tycoons, boffins and celebs all rubbed shoulders at a lavish ceremony at NASA’s Hangar One on Sunday night, where the wealthy board led by Yuri Milner heaped millions on scientists for breakthroughs in life sciences, maths and fundamental physics.

The awards were handed out by the illustrious tech-heavy board along with celebs like Kate Beckinsale and Seth McFarlane.

"The world faces many fundamental challenges today, and there are many amazing scientists, researchers and engineers helping us solve them,” Mark Zuckerberg said in a canned statement.

“This year's Breakthrough Prize winners have made discoveries that will help cure disease and move the world forward. They deserve to be recognised as heroes."

The awards were started by Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner, who made his fortune investing in firms like Facebook and Twitter and describes himself as a “failed physicist”. He reckoned that boffins were missing out on the big bucks for their research and managed to convince other techies with deep pockets to back a series of prizes for them.

Six different scientists were honoured for their work in Life Sciences, including Alim Louis Benabid for his high-frequency deep brain stimulation treatment for Parkinson’s disease and Victor Ambros and Gary Ruvkun for their work in genetic regulation by microRNAs.

Five mathematicians scooped the $3m prizes in the inaugural maths category for work in quantum field theories and analytics and other less-easily summarised fields.

Over 50 researchers are sharing the Fundamental Physics prize, led by Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess, who worked on the Supernova Cosmology project and the High-Z Supernova Search Team and discovered that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating, rather than slowing down, which had long been the theory.

The New Horizons in Physics prizes went to physicists working in quantum matter, high-intensity electron beams and quantum gravity. ®

The full list of prize winners are:

Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences

  • Alim-Louis Benabid, Joseph Fourier University, for the discovery and pioneering work on the development of high-frequency deep brain stimulation (DBS), which has revolutionized the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

  • C. David Allis, The Rockefeller University, for the discovery of covalent modifications of histone proteins and their critical roles in the regulation of gene expression and chromatin organization, advancing the understanding of diseases ranging from birth defects to cancer.

  • Victor Ambros, University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Gary Ruvkun, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, for the discovery of a new world of genetic regulation by microRNAs, a class of tiny RNA molecules that inhibit translation or destabilize complementary mRNA targets.

  • Jennifer Doudna, University of California, Berkeley, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Emmanuelle Charpentier, Helmholtz Center for Infection Research and Umeå University, for harnessing an ancient mechanism of bacterial immunity into a powerful and general technology for editing genomes, with wide-ranging implications across biology and medicine.

Breakthrough Prizes in Mathematics

  • Simon Donaldson, Stony Brook University and Imperial College London, for the new revolutionary invariants of 4-dimensional manifolds and for the study of the relation between stability in algebraic geometry and in global differential geometry, both for bundles and for Fano varieties.

  • Maxim Kontsevich, Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques, for work making a deep impact in a vast variety of mathematical disciplines, including algebraic geometry, deformation theory, symplectic topology, homological algebra and dynamical systems.

  • Jacob Lurie, Harvard University, for his work on the foundations of higher category theory and derived algebraic geometry; for the classification of fully extended topological quantum field theories; and for providing a moduli-theoretic interpretation of elliptic cohomology.

  • Terence Tao, University of California, Los Angeles, for numerous breakthrough contributions to harmonic analysis, combinatorics, partial differential equations and analytic number theory.

  • Richard Taylor, Institute for Advanced Study, for numerous breakthrough results in the theory of automorphic forms, including the Taniyama-Weil conjecture, the local Langlands conjecture for general linear groups, and the Sato-Tate conjecture.

Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics

  • Saul Perlmutter, University of California, Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and members of the Supernova Cosmology Project: Brian P. Schmidt, Australian National University; Adam Riess, Johns Hopkins University and the Space Telescope Science Institute; and members of the High-Z Supernova Team.

  • Citation: For the most unexpected discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, rather than slowing as had been long assumed.

  • Supernova Cosmology Project Team Breakthrough Prize winners: Greg Aldering, Brian J. Boyle, Patricia G. Castro, Warrick J. Couch, Susana Deustua, Richard S. Ellis, Sebastien Fabbro, Alexei V. Filippenko, Andrew S. Fruchter, Ariel Goobar, Donald E. Groom, Isobel M. Hook, Mike Irwin, Alex G. Kim, Matthew Y. Kim, Robert A. Knop, Julia C. Lee, Chris Lidman, Thomas Matheson, Richard G. McMahon, Richard Muller, Heidi J. M. Newberg, Peter Nugent, Nelson J. Nunes, Reynald Pain, Nino Panagia, Carl R. Pennypacker, Robert Quimby, Pilar Ruiz-Lapuente, Bradley E. Schaefer and Nicholas Walton.

  • High-Z Supernova Search Team Breakthrough Prize winners: Peter Challis, Alejandro Clocchiatti, Alan Diercks, Alexei V. Filippenko, Peter M. Garnavich, Ron L. Gilliland, Craig J. Hogan, Saurabh Jha, Robert P. Kirshner, Bruno Leibundgut, Mark M. Phillips, David Reiss, R. Chris Smith, Jason Spyromilio, Christopher Stubbs, Nicholas B. Suntzeff and John Tonry.

New Horizons in Physics Prizes

  • Sean Hartnoll, Stanford University, for applying holographic methods to obtain remarkable new insights into strongly interacting quantum matter.

  • Philip C. Schuster and Natalia Toro, Perimeter Institute, for pioneering the “simplified models” framework for new physics searches at the Large Hadron Collider, as well as spearheading new experimental searches for dark sectors using high-intensity electron beams.

  • Horacio Casini and Marina Huerta, CONICET and Instituto Balseiro, Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, Shinsei Ryu, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Tadashi Takayanagi, Kyoto University, for fundamental ideas about entropy in quantum field theory and quantum gravity.

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