Two Chinese-born scientists were among the nine scientists recognized on Oct. 17 with a “Breakthrough Prize,” a $3 million Silicon Valley-funded award designed to bestow Oscar-level glamor upon its recipients.
Founded and sponsored by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan, Mark Zuckerberg, Pony Ma, Anne Wojcicki, and Yuri and Julia Milner, the prestigious awards aim to invigorate public engagement in the sciences by honoring, in the most lavish way possible, the cutting edge in three fundamental fields of basic science: Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics and Mathematics.
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This year, Xiaowei Zhuang of Harvard University was celebrated with a Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for her achievements in developing a new tool for super-resolution imagery, allowing for new insights into the internal structure of cells and molecules.
Another Life Science prize was awarded to Zhijian “James” Chen from the University of Texas, who discovered a DNA-sensing enzyme that responds to both pathogen and host DNA, which has implications for treating cancer and auto-immune disorders.
Austrian Angelika Amon, from MIT, took home the third Life Science prize for determining the negative consequences of cells with an abnormal number of chromosomes (known as aneuploidy), particularly in cancer patients. The final Life Science prize was shared between Frank Bennett and Adrian Krainer, who collaborated in developing a gene therapy drug for treating Spinal Muscular Atrophy in infants.
Meanwhile, the Mathematics prize was awarded to Vincent Lafforgue for “groundbreaking work in multiple areas,” while the Physics prize was picked up by Charles Kane and Eugene Mele for discovering a revolutionary new class of electronic materials. Finally, an additional “Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics” was awarded to Jocelyn Bell Burnell for the discovery of pulsars.