The best scientists are recognized with $ 22 million in “innovative prizes”


The richest and most eye-catching scientific awards in the world will be delivered Sunday night to 12 men and women who work on some of the most difficult problems to solve, and who rarely see the spotlight outside. from your strict academic circles.

Among the winners of this year's Breakthrough Awards, which offer a total of $ 22 million in cash prizes, there is a team of physicists who helped describe the childhood of the universe, a biologist who is thinking of ways to use plants to fight against climate change, and a UCSF biochemist working on a "miraculous" molecule that could treat dozens of conditions.

The Breakthrough Awards were founded six years ago by a group of technology billionaires, including Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, and Yuri and Julia Milner – to celebrate transformative research in mathematics, science and medicine.

Sunday's awards ceremony was designed as a red carpet gala that is more reminiscent of the Oscars than the events, academic events that honor the sciences. Actor Morgan Freeman hosted the ceremony, held at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, with presenters including filmmaker Ron Howard and actors Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher and Kerry Washington.

"I'll be more than a little uncomfortable," joked Christopher Hacon, winner of an award in math, before the event. "I'm definitely more comfortable in the world of mathematics, but this may be more attractive to a younger generation, and that would not be a bad thing."

Hacon, like many if not all recipients, is an international expert in such a complicated field that it can be difficult to describe his work in words that a layman would understand.

Professor of mathematics at the University of Utah, his focus is on algebraic geometry and his work is mainly theoretical. There are applications of his mathematics in the real world, but they may not be discovered until much later than his time, he said.

The physics prize went to a team of scientists who used a satellite called Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP, to create a descriptive map of the beginning of the universe. Some of those scientists are now using models constructed from these descriptions to test theories about how the universe began.

"Humans are innately curious and curious about the grand universe that surrounds us, the idea that we have the ability to probe these questions and get answers that are hard and fast, is fascinating to me," said Charles Bennett, the cosmologist at the Johns Hopkins University that directed WMAP. "And none of us knows how far we can go with this."

"It's fascinating, it's exciting, it's fun," he said, "and it's nice to be recognized for it."

Thirty years in a career Dedicated to studying Biology and plant genetics, Joanne Chory is launching real-world applications of lab-based work Chory, a scientist at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, San Diego County, who won an award in life sciences, is leading an initiative that I would use the plants to reduce the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and offer a buffer against climate change.

"We have this new initiative to try to save the world from ourselves, and I am very excited to tell our story to Everyone, "said Chory.

The only recipient of the Bay Area Breakthrough Award is Peter Walter from UCSF, who studies at a molecular level how cells synthesize and use proteins, and what happens when protein regulation fails.

Decades of cell biology research has led his team to study an exci molecule that, in mice with brain damage, can restore memory and function. Molecules with similar properties may one day prove useful for treating other types of neurological conditions or diseases such as diabetes.

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