At a swanky event this weekend hosted by Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane, the $3 million Breakthrough Prizes went to researchers like Svante Pääbo, Karl Deisseroth, and Ed Boyden, Reuters reports.
A suite of well-known names in tech and related sectors — Google's Sergey Brin and 23andMe's Anne Wojcicki, Alibaba's Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang, entrepreneurs Yuri and Julia Milner, and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan — started the Breakthrough Prizes in 2013. Billionaire Yuri Milner told the New York Times last year that science should be "as glitzy as rock 'n' roll."
As the Guardian notes, the life science awards went this year to Stanford University's Deisseroth and MIT's Boyden for their development of optogenetics; University College London's John Hardy for his discovery of genetic mutations linked to early-onset Alzheimer's disease; the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center's Helen Hobbs for linking certain gene variants linked to cholesterol; and Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology for his work on Neanderthal and other ancient genomes.
Hardy tells the Guardian that he was having breakfast one morning when he found out he'd won. "I was speechless. It was a 15-minute call that changed my life. I had to have another cup of coffee," he says.
The physics award went to a large group of some 1,370 researchers who discovered that, contrary to the standard model of particle physics, neutrinos have mass, Nature News adds. This group award, Nature News notes, is in stark contrast to the Nobel committee's decision to honor two researchers for the same work.
In addition, the mathematics prize went to the University of California, Berkeley's Ian Agol.