For the second year in a row, National Geographic aired a global live broadcast of the Breakthrough Prize ceremony, an annual awards show that aims to give scientists and mathematicians the same celebrity treatment as actors and musicians. Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman hosted the December 4 ceremony, which also included appearances by Jeremy Irons, astronaut Scott Kelly, Sienna Miller, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vin Diesel, Kevin Durant, Dev Patel, Alex Rodriguez, and Will.i.am, as well as a musical performance by Alicia Keys. The event, which distributed $25 million in awards supporting the work of top scientists and students, will re-air as a one-hour special on the FOX network on Sunday, December 18 at 7PM.
“Science is universal,” said entrepreneur and Breakthrough Prize founder Yuri Milner. “Tonight it brought together some of the world’s greatest actors, sportsmen, musicians, academics, entrepreneurs, astronauts and, last but not least, scientists, to celebrate what the human mind can achieve. And it brought in a live audience from across the planet.”
Milner founded the Breakthrough Prize in 2012 along with his wife Julia and fellow tech industry leaders Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang, and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. The founders hope that giving scientists the “rock star treatment” will generate excitement about the pursuit of science as a career and give those working in STEM fields the recognition they deserve.
“It is an honor to partner with the Breakthrough Prize team to celebrate the incredible men and women who are driving the world’s most significant scientific advances,” said Gary Newman and Dana Walden, chairmen and CEOs, Fox Television Group. “We hope that by showcasing these great minds and their important work to millions of viewers, we can help them inspire the next generation of scientists.”
The award is the most lucrative individual honor across all scientific fields. The three Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics and Mathematics are each worth $3 million, and seven of these prizes were awarded to nine individuals at this year’s ceremony. In addition, three New Horizons in Physics Prizes and three New Horizons in Mathematics Prizes, each worth $100,000, were awarded to researchers still early in their careers. The event marked the organization’s fifth anniversary, and in that time it has distributed more than $200 million to scientific research.
“There has never been a more important time to support science,” said Zuckerberg. “The 2017 Breakthrough Prize laureates represent the leaders in scientific research in physics, math and life sciences. Their breakthroughs will unlock new possibilities and help make the world a better pace for everyone.”
The event also featured the second annual Breakthrough Prize Junior Challenge, which honored two recipients this year: Antonella Masini of Peru and Deanna See of Singapore. The contest asks students ages 13-18 from around the world to make a short film that brings to life an important scientific idea, for the chance to win a $250,000 scholarship, as well as a state-of-the-art science lab for the student’s school valued at $100,000 and $50,000 in grant funding for his/her teacher. Masini’s video explored quantum entanglement in physics, and See’s life sciences video tackled antibiotic resistance.
“The Breakthrough Junior Challenge encourages students to better understand the worlds of science and mathematics and to have some fun along the way,” said Chan. “Antonella and Deanna both have bright futures in science and I am so excited to honor their work. They are also incredible storytellers, whose ability to capture these complex ideas in accessible and exciting ways is truly inspiring. I cannot wait to see how they will change the world.”
View the full list of this year’s winners, and tune into the one-hour version of the ceremony, airing Sunday, Dec. 18, at 7:00PM ET/PT on FOX and globally on National Geographic in 171 countries and 45 languages.