Winners of 2021 Breakthrough Prize announced

Winners of 2021 Breakthrough Prize announced

The Breakthrough Prize Foundation has announced the winners of the 2021 Breakthrough Prizes in fundamental physics, life sciences, and mathematics.

Now in its ninth year, the foundation awarded a total of $18.75 million in cash prizes to scientists and mathematicians working on some of the biggest and most fundamental questions in their fields. In the fundamental physics category, the 2021 Breakthrough Prize was awarded to Eric Adelberger, Jens H. Gundlach, and Blayne Heckel (University of Washington), who will share the $3 million prize for their work in achieving precise fundamental measurements that test our understanding of gravity, probe the nature of dark energy, and establish limits on couplings to dark matter. The selection committee also announced a $3 million Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for Steven Weinberg (University of Texas at Austin), commending his "continuous leadership in fundamental physics, with broad impact across particle physics, gravity and cosmology, and for communicating science to a wider audience."

In the life sciences category, the $3 million prize will be shared by David Baker (UW and Howard Hughes Medical Institute), for developing technology that enables the design of novel proteins, including some with the potential for therapeutic intervention in human diseases; Catherine Dulac (Harvard University and HHMI), for demonstrating that the neural circuits governing both male- and female-specific parenting behaviors are present in both sexes; Yuk Ming Dennis Lo (the Chinese University of Hong Kong), for discovering that fetal DNA is present in maternal blood and can be used for prenatal testing of trisomy 21 and other genetic disorders; and Richard J. Youle (National Institutes of Health), for elucidating a quality control pathway that clears damaged mitochondria and protects against Parkinson’s Disease.

And the 2021 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics was awarded to Martin Hairer (Imperial College London), for his contributions to the theory of stochastic analysis, in particular the theory of regularity structures in stochastic partial differential equations.

The foundation also awarded New Horizons prizes of $100,000 to twelve early-career scientists and mathematicians who have had a substantial impact on their fields, and Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes — named for the Iranian mathematician, Fields Medalist, and Stanford University professor who died in 2017 — of $50,000 each to three early-career women mathematicians — Nina Holden (ETH Zurich), Urmila Mahadev (California Institute of Technology), and Lisa Piccirillo (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The foundation increased the number of New Frontiers Prize recipients awarded this year from one to three due to intense interest and the high quality of the nominations. 

Founded by Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, the Breakthrough Prizes are funded by Zuckerberg's fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the Brin WojcickiJack MaMa Huateng, and Milner foundations.

(Image credit: Breakthrough Prize Foundation)