Nov 5, 2018 · 5 min read

Top Scientists Honored at 7th Annual Breakthrough Prize Ceremony in Silicon Valley


Mountain View, California — Last night, some of the biggest names in science, technology, and entertainment came together in Silicon Valley to honor the 2019 Breakthrough Prize laureates for their top achievements in life sciences, fundamental physics, and mathematics. A combined total of $22 million was awarded at the ceremony, hosted by acclaimed actor, producer, and philanthropist Pierce Brosnan. Each Breakthrough Prize award is $3 million, the largest individual monetary prize in science.

Since its inception in 2012, the Breakthrough Prize has awarded over $200 million to honor groundbreaking research. This year, a total of seven $3 million prizes were awarded: four in life sciences, two in fundamental physics, and one in mathematics. Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) and Breakthrough Prize co-founder Priscilla Chan and actress Julianne Moore presented the 2018 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics to Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell for her fundamental contributions to the discovery of pulsars, and a lifetime of inspiring leadership in the scientific community.

CZI and Breakthrough Prize co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and actress Lupita Nyong’o presented the Life Sciences award to Xiaowei Zhuang of Harvard University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute for her discovery of hidden structures in cells by developing super-resolution imaging.

“Mark and I want to extend our congratulations and gratitude to all of tonight’s laureates,” said Priscilla Chan. “Their tireless efforts to understand the basic principles that drive our world — from the farthest stars to the depths of our cells — have spawned breakthroughs that have fundamentally advanced human progress. I’m inspired by tonight’s winners and hope that the next generation of scientists watching tonight’s ceremony are inspired, too!”

The laureates were honored at an awards ceremony with a live performance by Lionel Richie, along with presentations from the founders of the Breakthrough Prize; stars of the screen such as Julianne Moore, Ron Howard, Zoe Saldana, Eddie Redmayne, Orlando Bloom, Thandie Newton; and singer-songwriter G.E.M. The ceremony aired live on National Geographic, YouTube, and Facebook Live.

The 2019 Breakthrough Prize winners are as follows:

  • The 2019 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics was awarded to Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell (Oxford University), for fundamental contributions to the discovery of pulsars, and a lifetime of inspiring leadership in the scientific community.
  • The 2019 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics was awarded to Charles Kane and Eugene Mele of the University of Pennsylvania, for new ideas about topology and symmetry in physics, leading to the prediction of a new class of materials that conduct electricity only on their surface.
  • The 2019 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics was awarded to Vincent Lafforgue (CNRS & Institut Fourier, Université Grenoble Alpes), for groundbreaking contributions to several areas of mathematics, in particular to the Langlands program in the function field case.
  • The 2019 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences was awarded to:
    • C. Frank Bennett (Ionis Pharmaceuticals) and Adrian R. Krainer (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory), for the development of an effective antisense oligonucleotide therapy for children with the neurodegenerative disease spinal muscular atrophy.
    • Angelika Amon (MIT & Howard Hughes Medical Institute), for determining the consequences of aneuploidy, an abnormal chromosome number resulting from chromosome mis-segregation.
    • Xiaowei Zhuang (Harvard University & HHMI), for discovering hidden structures in cells by developing super-resolution imaging — a method that transcends the fundamental spatial resolution limit of light microscopy.
    • Zhijian “James” Chen (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center & HHMI), for elucidating how DNA triggers immune and autoimmune responses from the interior of a cell through the discovery of the DNA-sensing enzyme cGAS.

The ceremony also recognized the winner of the fourth annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge for students, which awarded a $250,000 scholarship to Samay Godika from India, who created an original science video on the body’s circadian rhythm. In addition, Samay’s science teacher, Pramila Menon, won $50,000, and his school will also receive a state-of-the-art science lab valued at $100,000. You can view Samay’s video here.

Additionally, seven physicists and five mathematicians received a total of six New Horizons Prizes, worth $100,000 each, for early-career achievements in their respective fields.


About the Breakthrough Prize:
The Breakthrough Prize recognizes the world’s top scientists. Each prize is $3 million and presented in the fields of Life Sciences (up to four per year), Fundamental Physics (one per year) and Mathematics (one per year). In addition, up to three New Horizons in Physics and up to three New Horizons in Mathematics Prizes are given out to junior researchers each year. Laureates attend a live televised award ceremony designed to celebrate their achievements and inspire the next generation of scientists. As part of the ceremony schedule, they also engage in a program of lectures and discussions. The Breakthrough Prizes are sponsored by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Ma Huateng, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Anne Wojcicki. Selection Committees composed of previous Breakthrough Prize laureates in each field choose the winners. Information on the Breakthrough Prizes is available at

About the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative:
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was launched in December 2015 by Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, and Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician and founder and CEO of The Primary School in East Palo Alto. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a new kind of philanthropy that seeks to engineer change at scale. By pairing world-class engineering with grant-making, impact investing, policy, and advocacy work, CZI hopes to build a future for everyone. Initial areas of focus include supporting science through basic biomedical research and education through personalized learning. CZI is also exploring ways to address barriers to justice and opportunity—from criminal justice reform, to expanded access, to economic opportunity and affordable housing.

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