$15.75 Million in Prizes Awarded for Predicting Protein Structure with Deep Learning, Pioneering Field of Quantum Information, and Discoveries with Applications from Treating Neurodegenerative Disease to Optimizing Video Transmission
Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Awarded to Clifford P. Brangwynne and Anthony A. Hyman; Demis Hassabis and John Jumper; Emmanuel Mignot and Masashi Yanagisawa
Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics Awarded to Daniel A. Spielman
Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics Awarded to Charles H. Bennett, Gilles Brassard, David Deutsch and Peter Shor
Six New Horizons Prizes Awarded for Early-Career Achievements in Physics and Mathematics
Three Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes Awarded to Women Mathematicians for Early-Career Achievements
SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 22, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — The Breakthrough Prize Foundation and its founding sponsors – Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Julia and Yuri Milner, and Anne Wojcicki – today announced the 2023 Breakthrough Prize laureates, recognized for their game-changing discoveries in Fundamental Physics, Life Sciences and Mathematics, along with early-career scientists who have made significant contributions to their fields.
Three Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences are awarded to: Clifford P. Brangwynne and Anthony A. Hyman for discovering a new mechanism of cellular organization; Demis Hassabis and John Jumper for developing AlphaFold, which accurately predicts the structure of proteins; and to Emmanuel Mignot and Masashi Yanagisawa for discovering the causes of narcolepsy. The Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics goes to Daniel A. Spielman, for multiple discoveries in theoretical computer science and mathematics. The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics is shared by Charles H. Bennett, Gilles Brassard, David Deutsch and Peter Shor for their foundational work in quantum information. And important contributions from early-career scientists are also recognized, with six New Horizons Prizes in Physics and Mathematics and three Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes awarded for women mathematicians who have recently completed their doctorates.
“Neurodegenerative disease breakthroughs, quantum computing, AI solving protein structure, and more…” said Sergey Brin, “These are incredible advances that deserve to be celebrated.”
“Congratulations to all of the Breakthrough Prize winners, whose incredible discoveries will pave the way for scientific discovery and spur innovation,” said CZI Co-Founders and Co-CEOs Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg. “These laureates and early-career scientists are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in research and science, and we’re thrilled to honor their accomplishments.”
“The laureates honored today embody the remarkable power of fundamental science,” said Yuri Milner, “both to reveal deep truths about the Universe, and to improve human lives.”
“The 2023 laureates have produced absolutely stellar science,” said Anne Wojcicki. “The creativity, ingenuity and sheer perseverance that went into this work is awe-inspiring.”
In the Life Sciences, Demis Hassabis and John Jumper are the leaders behind AlphaFold 2, the AI system that has largely solved the protein structure prediction problem – one of the biggest challenges in biology. Proteins are the nano-machines that run cells, and predicting their 3D structure from the sequence of their amino acids is central to understanding the workings of life. With their team at DeepMind, Hassabis and Jumper conceived and constructed a deep learning system that accurately and rapidly models the structure of proteins. AlphaFold has already had a revolutionary impact in the life sciences: this summer DeepMind uploaded the structures of 200 million proteins – nearly every known protein from across the tree of life – to a public database. The program reduces the time scientists typically spend determining protein structure from months or years to hours or minutes. It holds immense promise of future benefits, from drug design to synthetic biology, nanomaterials, and fundamental understanding of cellular processes. A short video about their achievement can be found here.
The discovery of a new cellular process is recognized by another of the Life Sciences prizes. Until recently, it was thought that most of the work in a cell goes on in organelles – specialized subunits enclosed by membranes. But Anthony Hyman and Clifford Brangwynne discovered an entirely new physical principle that concentrates cellular interactions between proteins and other biomolecules, in the absence of membranes. They described dynamic liquid-like droplets that form rapidly by phase separation – similar to oil droplets forming in water – producing temporary structures protected from the molecular turmoil of the watery cell interior. Since their discovery, they and others have shown that these membraneless liquid condensates play a role in numerous cellular processes, including signalling, cell division, the nested structure of nucleoli in the cell nucleus, and the regulation of DNA. Their discovery is a fundamental advance in our understanding of cellular organization, and is likely to lead to clinical applications in the future, including for neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS. A short video about their achievement can be found here.
Another neurodegenerative disease, narcolepsy, was little understood before Emmanuel Mignot and Masashi Yanagisawa, running separate labs and pursuing different research programs, converged on a new understanding of its causes. They showed that central to the disease is the protein orexin (also called hypocretin), which ordinarily regulates wakefulness. In some animals, such as dogs, narcolepsy is caused by a mutation affecting the neural receptor that orexin binds to; while in humans, the disease is triggered by the immune system attacking the cells that produce orexin (probably “mistaking” it for a viral particle). Mignot and Yanagisawa’s discoveries have led to treatments shown to relieve the symptoms of narcolepsy, as well as enabling the design of sleep-inducing drugs. They revealed that narcolepsy is a neurodegenerative disease with autoimmune origins, and raise the possibility that other neurodegenerative diseases may be caused by selective loss of neurons. And they shed light on a central mechanism of sleep and waking, an area of behavior that still holds many mysteries. A short video about their achievement can be found here.
In Mathematics, Daniel A. Spielman’s insights and algorithms have been significant not only for mathematics, but for highly practical problems in computing, signal processing, engineering, and even the design of clinical trials. Among many other results, he and his collaborators solved the Kadison-Singer problem, which arose in quantum mechanics but turned out to be equivalent to major unsolved problems across numerous mathematical fields – from linear algebra (the study of equations featuring vectors and matrices) to higher-dimensional geometry, combinatorial optimization (for example, versions of the travelling salesman problem), and the mathematics of signal processing. A short video about his achievement can be found here.
In Fundamental Physics, the prize goes to four pioneers in the field of quantum information.
With their BB84 protocol, Charles H. Bennett and Gilles Brassard, building on Stephen Wiesner’s seminal but impractical idea of quantum money, initiated quantum cryptography by devising a practical way to send secret messages between users who share no secret information initially. Unlike methods commonly used in e-commerce, it cannot be broken even by an eavesdropper with unlimited computing power. Their 1993 discovery, with collaborators, of quantum teleportation, showed that entanglement is a useful quantifiable resource despite having no communication capacity of its own, thereby helping launch the new science of quantum information processing.
David Deutsch laid the foundations of quantum computation. He defined the quantum version of a Turing machine – a universal quantum computer – and proved that it could simulate to arbitrary accuracy any physical system that obeys the laws of quantum mechanics. He showed that such a computer is equivalent to a network of surprisingly few quantum gates – logic gates that leverage the quantum phenomena of entanglement and superposition of many states at once. And he designed the first quantum algorithm that can perform a calculation faster than the best equivalent classical algorithm.
Peter Shor went on to invent the first quantum computer algorithm that was clearly useful. Shor’s algorithm can find the factors of large numbers exponentially faster than is thought to be possible for any classical algorithm. He also designed techniques for error-correction in quantum computers – a much harder feat than in classical computers, where simple redundancy will suffice. These ideas not only paved the way for today’s fast-developing quantum computers; they are now also at the frontiers of fundamental physics, especially in the study of metrology – the science of measurement – and of quantum gravity.
A short video about the physicists’ achievement can be found here.
Beyond the main prizes, 6 New Horizons Prizes, each of $100,000, were distributed between 11 early-career scientists and mathematicians who have already made a substantial impact on their fields. In addition, 3 Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes, of $50,000 each, were awarded to women mathematicians who have recently completed their PhDs and produced important results.
The Breakthrough Prizes are the world’s largest science awards. Each of the five main prizes is $3 million, and the addition of the early-career awards brings this year’s total prizes to $15.75 million.
Full citations for all the 2023 laureates can be found below:
2023 Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences
Clifford P. Brangwynne
Princeton University, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Marine Biological Laboratory
Anthony A. Hyman
Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics
For discovering a fundamental mechanism of cellular organization mediated by phase separation of proteins and RNA into membraneless liquid droplets.
For developing a deep learning AI method that rapidly and accurately predicts the three-dimensional structure of proteins from their amino acid sequence.
Stanford University School of Medicine
University of Tsukuba
For discovering that narcolepsy is caused by the loss of a small population of brain cells that make a wake-promoting substance, paving the way for the development of new treatments for sleep disorders.
2023 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics
Charles H. Bennett
IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center
Université de Montréal
Peter W. Shor
For foundational work in the field of quantum information.
2023 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics
Daniel A. Spielman
For breakthrough contributions to theoretical computer science and mathematics, including to spectral graph theory, the Kadison-Singer problem, numerical linear algebra, optimization, and coding theory.
2023 New Horizons in Physics Prize
For the development of analytical and numerical techniques to study conformal field theories, including the ones describing the liquid vapor critical point and the superfluid phase transition.
For the discovery of major performance enhancements to niobium superconducting radio-frequency cavities, with applications ranging from accelerator physics to quantum devices.
University of Chicago
Adam M. Kaufman
JILA, National Institute of Standards and Technology and University of Colorado
University of Innsbruck and Austrian Academy of Sciences
For the development of optical tweezer arrays to realize control of individual atoms for applications in quantum information science, metrology, and molecular physics.
2023 New Horizons in Mathematics Prize
Imperial College London and University of Bonn
For diverse transformative contributions to the Langlands program, and in particular for work with Peter Scholze on the Hodge-Tate period map for Shimura varieties and its applications.
Weizmann Institute of Science and Microsoft Research
For the creation of the stochastic localization method, that has led to significant progress in several open problems in high-dimensional geometry and probability, including Jean Bourgain’s slicing problem and the KLS conjecture.
Oxford University and Institute for Advanced Study
For multiple contributions to analytic number theory, and in particular to the distribution of prime numbers.
2023 Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize
Stanford University and Clay Mathematics Institute
(PhD Princeton University 2020)
For work on fibered ribbon knots and surfaces in 4-dimensional manifolds.
(PhD Rutgers University 2020)
For contributions to the resolution of several major conjectures on thresholds and selector processes.
University of Bonn
(PhD University of Bonn 2020)
For advances in approximation results in classical combinatorial optimization problems, including the traveling salesman problem and network design.
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About The Breakthrough Prize
For the eleventh year, the Breakthrough Prize, renowned as the “Oscars of Science,” recognizes the world’s top scientists. Each prize is $3 million and presented in the fields of Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics and Mathematics. In addition, up to three New Horizons in Physics Prizes, up to three New Horizons in Mathematics Prizes and up to three Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes are given out to early-career researchers each year. Laureates attend a gala 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 were founded by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Julia and Yuri Milner, and Anne Wojcicki and have been sponsored by foundations established by them. Selection Committees composed of previous Breakthrough Prize laureates in each field choose the winners. Information on the Breakthrough Prize is available at breakthroughprize.org.
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