A bright night for science


MOUNTAIN VIEW – The road to science fame is typically a swarm of jars, Petri dishes, computers and tedious grant proposals, but sometimes, for the most talented, it ends up on a red carpet.

In a black tie and the extravagance of the dress on Sunday night at NASA. Hanger One, the $ 22 million Breakthrough Awards to some of the best physicists, biologists and mathematicians in the world.

Think Met Gala meets Doctor Who. In an intoxicating badtail of celebrities / scientists, movie stars Morgan Freeman, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher and others presented trophies to not-so-well-known boffins, including Californians Peter Walter of UC San Francisco, plant breeder Joanne Chory of the Salk Institute of Biological Studies of San Diego. the anti-cancer scientist Don W. Cleveland and the mathematician James McKernan of UC San Diego, among others.

"It's an incredible recognition for our work, which is usually quite abstract," said Walter, who studies how proteins within cells communicate with one another, fundamental to understanding how life is organized and works. "What this prize does is put the fundamental discoveries in the spotlight, it means a huge amount not only for me, but for the laboratory and the whole field."

The scientists arrived in elegant limos, then smiled stiffly as a phalanx of photographers waved and shouted, "Raise your chin!" Look left, please! Directly, look forward! "

The bravest ventured into the media to explain how their discoveries could save our warm planet, transform how we conceive the cosmos or shake the world of mathematics."

John Urschel, former offensive lineman with the The Baltimore Ravens of the NFL and now a doctoral candidate in mathematics at MIT bravely described combinatorial optimization for dazzled but bewildered journalists – it's just a way to find optimal solutions to problems with a large but finite set of solutions, he said.

Scientists were then escorted to the brilliant big event.

"My lab will be surprised to see me looking like this," laughed Chory in a pink dress to the floor, which traveled from San Diego to Orange County with her family to find the right dress. "We do not dress much."

She seeks to design a plant that can capture carbon or on the ground, oh, and also feed the world.

How is it inside the hangar? It's a secret Journalists are banned after the red carpet. But because it's broadcast live, what we can tell you is this: there's an elegant dinner, they're called on stage for their prize, and there's entertainment from Wiz Khalifa and Nana Ou-Yang. They are served by a small army of publicists and elusive waiters.

It is a large but appreciated event, which since its inception in 2012 has awarded nearly $ 200 million to honor critical research in the fields of fundamental physics. , life sciences and mathematics.

"I love coming to this," said UC Berkeley biochemist, winner of 2015, Jennifer Doudna, in an elegant black dress and diamond earrings, who pioneered the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing tool.

Hope is to create a cultural change: if scientists are treated like celebrities, they will win the attention of young people. The awards, conceived by the theoretical deserter of physics and businessman Yuri Milner, are funded by Milner and his wife, Julia, and several titans of Silicon Valley technology: Sergey Brin, from Google; Anne Wojcicki, of 23andMe; and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician at UC San Francisco.

Zuckerberg, on vacation with his family, thanked the scientists through the video: "It is thanks to you that we can imagine a world when all diseases are cured in the lives of our children and all of us can live to our fullest potential, "he said, wearing a blue hoodie. "We are making steady progress to make a better future for all of us"

Other guests included Spotify co-founder and CEO Daniel Elk, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, Udacity co-founder Sebastian Thrum, Miss USA 2017 Kara McCullough and George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, a company that develops commercial space vehicles.

More than 11,000 entries from 178 countries were received in the 2017 delivery of the global competition, which began on September 1.

The winners were chosen by a committee of winners from the previous year.

A total of seven prizes of $ 3 million were awarded. In addition, three $ 100,000 New Horizons in Physics were awarded to three early career physicists, and three New Horizons in Mathematics Prizes were awarded for a total of $ 300,000 to four early career mathematicians. The Breakthrough Junior Challenge recognized a student with a $ 250,000 scholarship and provided an additional $ 150,000 in educational awards for the science teacher and the winner's school.

Some scientists use the money to pay mortgages; others, to take the children to college. Some give their gifts to needy causes. Doudna from UC Berkeley donated $ 3 million to her alma mater Pomona College and UC Berkeley to support college students doing summer research.

The news of his award was surprising and unexpected, such as research, said Walter, 62, a Berlin native who lives at UCSF in San Francisco with his family.

"In research, we are explorers," he said. "We have no idea where we're going." It is unpredictable And what we find can be very abstract and inaccessible to the average citizen.

"So this is a wonderful way to put our work there."

Winners of the Prize

The Revelation Prize 2018 in Life Sciences was awarded. Joanne Chory (Salk Institute for Biological Studies and Howard Hughes Medical Institute), Don W. Cleveland (Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at the University of California, San Diego), Kazutoshi Mori (Kyoto University), Kim Nasmyth (University of Oxford) and Peter Walter (University of California, San Francisco).

The 2018 Breakthrough Award in Fundamental Physics was awarded to Charles L. Bennett (Johns Hopkins University), Gary Hinshaw (University of British Columbia), Norman Jarosik (Princeton University), Lyman Page Jr. (Princeton University) and David N. Spergel (Princeton University).

The 2018 Breakthrough Award in Mathematics was awarded to Christopher Hacon (University of Utah) and James M cKernan (University of California, San Diego).

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