Nov 4, 2019 · 4 min read

Top Scientists Honored at 8th Annual Breakthrough Prize Ceremony in Silicon Valley

$21.6 Million Awarded to Those Driving Innovations in Physics, Life Sciences, and Mathematics

November 3, 2019 - The 2020 Breakthrough Prize laureates, honored for top scientific achievements in life sciences, fundamental physics, and mathematics, at an award ceremony in Mountain View, CA. Photograph by Dale Ramos.

Last night, some of the biggest names in science, technology, and entertainment came together in Silicon Valley to honor the 2020 Breakthrough Prize laureates for their achievements in life sciences, fundamental physics, and mathematics. A combined total of $21.6 million was awarded at the ceremony, hosted by actor, comedian, and television host James Corden. 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 $221 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. One fundamental physics prize was awarded to the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, a coalition of 347 scientists, for creating the first image of a supermassive black hole. View the full list of Breakthrough Prize winners.

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) Co-Founder & Co-CEO and Breakthrough Prize Co-Founder Priscilla Chan and model and entrepreneur Karlie Kloss presented the Life Sciences award to Virginia Man-Yee Lee of the University of Pennsylvania for inventing a protein roadmap to neurodegenerative disorders and elucidating common mechanisms of degeneration in diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

CZI Co-Founder & Co-CEO and Breakthrough Prize Co-Founder Mark Zuckerberg and actor LeVar Burton presented the Fundamental Physics prize to the Event Horizon Telescope team for producing the first image of a black hole. 

“Congratulations to all of the Breakthrough Prize laureates, whose stunning achievements show the promise of scientific discovery and what is possible through collaborative efforts,” said Priscilla Chan. “A better understanding of fundamental processes in biology — such as what triggers pain, how appetite is regulated, and the drivers of neurodegenerative disorders — will move us closer to curing, preventing, or managing all disease. Their discoveries are re-shaping life as we know it and serve as inspiration for everyone working to help make the world a better place.” 

The laureates were honored at an awards ceremony with live performances by, Lenny Kravitz, and Rachel Zhang, along with presentations from the founders of the Breakthrough Prize and stars of the screen such as Tyra Banks, Drew Barrymore, Taraji P. Henson, Allison Janney, Adriana Lima, and Edward Norton. The ceremony aired live on YouTube and Facebook.

The Breakthrough Prize also recognized the winner of the fifth annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge for students, which awarded a $250,000 college scholarship to Jeffery Chen, 17, of Burlingame, California, who created an original science video on neutrino astronomy. In addition, Chen’s science teacher, Heather Johnson, who sparked Jeffery’s interest in science, mentored him, and helped him launch an environmental science club, will win a $50,000 prize. His school will also receive a state-of-the-art science lab valued at $100,000. View Chen’s video and the rest of the finalist videos.

Finally, six New Horizons Prizes, worth $100,000 each, were awarded to 12 scientists to recognize early-career achievements in physics and mathematics. 

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: 

Founded by Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg in 2015, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) is a new kind of philanthropy that’s leveraging technology to help solve some of the world’s toughest challenges — from eradicating disease, to improving education, to reforming the criminal justice system. Across three core Initiative focus areas of Science, Education, and Justice & Opportunity, we’re pairing engineering with grant-making, impact investing, and policy and advocacy work to help build an inclusive, just and healthy future for everyone. For more information, please visit

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