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Silicon Valley’s Billionaires Award Scientists In Annual Breakthrough Prize

Photo from Breakthrough

Silicon Valley’s tech billionaires gathered to award some of the world’s leading life scientists, physicists and mathematicians with generous funds in a glamorous ceremony dubbed “The Oscars of Science”on Sunday, hosted by actor Morgan Freeman.

Tech investor Yuri Milner, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google cofounder Sergey Brin and 23andMe cofounder Ann Wojcicki threw the annual televised Breakthrough Prize ceremony live from a transformed hangar at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, near Google’s headquarters, Forbes reports.

Present were several Hollywood personalities, like Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher, who is also an inventor. Actress and producer Kerry Washington handed out the awards, while Wiz Khalifa and a 17-year-old Taiwanese cellist performed during the event. The ceremony was televised live on the National Geographic channel, and for the first time, utilized its sponsors’ powerful platforms: Facebook and YouTube, on the pages of both Breakthrough Prize and National Geographic.

Also in attendance were YouTube president Susan Wojcicki, Airbnb cofounder Joe Gebbia, Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom. Zuckerberg was not at the event, but broadcast a video message on the progress that is needed in scientific research.

Pony Ma, or Ma Huateng, cofounder and chairman of Chinese Internet services giant Tencent Holdings, was announced to be joining the program as a “founding sponsor.” Ma said,

Fundamental science is the bedrock of technological advancement.  I believe the Breakthrough Prize can reinforce the bridge within the global community of researchers and mathematicians, facilitating mutual sharing between the East and West.  In physics, life sciences or mathematics, the international science community is bringing the world closer together.

A grand total of seven $3 million prizes were given: five in life sciences, one in fundamental physics and one in mathematics. Six New Horizons in Physics and Mathematics Prizes of $100,000 were also handed to scientists who have just started in their careers.

The Breakthrough Junior prize was granted to 18-year-old Hillary Andales of Leyte in the Philippines, who won with a video entitled, “Relativity & The Equivalence of Reference Frames.” Her prize included up to $250,000 in scholarship funds, $50,000 for her science teacher and a new science lab for her school designed in partnership with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York State.

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