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Breakthrough Prize

Breakthrough Prize

  • Premiered: 
    January 27, 2014
    (Click date to see TV listings for that day)

  • Network: Science
  • Category: Series
  • Genre: Award
  • Type: Live Action
  • Concept: 
  • Subject Matter:
  • Tags: science, engineering

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Plot Synopsis

The Breakthrough Prize is a set of awards that honor outstanding contributions in Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics, and Mathematics, aiming to celebrate scientists and generate excitement about the pursuit of science as a career. Founded by Sergey Brin & Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg & Priscilla Chan, and Yuri Milner & Julia Milner, the Breakthrough Prize Foundation hosts a ceremony in Silicon Valley, where celebrities present awards to distinguished winners and recipients, who each receive a $3 million prize. Prizes are awarded in three categories:

The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics (2012 Prize - Present), which recognizes transformative achievements in the field of fundamental physics, with a special focus on recent developments.

The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences (2013 Prize - Present), which recognizes excellence in research aimed at curing intractable diseases and extending human life.

The Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics (2015 Prize - Present), which rewards significant discoveries across the many branches of the subject.

The 2014 Breakthrough Prize, hosted by actor Kevin Spacey, was held at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA on Thursday, December 12, 2013 and later televised as a two-hour special on Monday, January 27, 2014 at 9pm ET/PT on Science Channel. Grammy-nominated singer Lana Del Ray performed, while awards were presented by the Prize sponsors and by celebrities including Conan O'Brien, Glenn Close, Rob Lowe and Michael C. Hall.

On Saturday, November 15, 2014 at 6pm ET/PT, Discovery and Science Channel simulcast a one-hour special with highlights from the 2015 Breakthrough Prize ceremony hosted by Seth MacFarlane from NASA's Ames Research Center the previous weekend on Sunday, November 9. Award presenters included Kate Beckinsale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Diaz, Jon Hamm and Eddie Redmayne and a special musical performance by Christina Aguilera.

On Sunday, November 8, 2015 at 10pm ET (live)/7pm PT (live), Nat Geo premiered the 2016 Breakthrough Prize ceremony hosted for the second time by Seth MacFarlane. This year, for the first time, the ceremony also features the Breakthrough Junior Challenge for students, which will award $400,000 in educational prizes to a student whose original video brings to life a scientific or mathematical idea or principle. Pharrell Williams will perform at its third annual Breakthrough Prize ceremony, and he'll be joined by celebrity presenters Russell Crowe, Hilary Swank, Lily Collins and SILICON VALLEY's Thomas Middleditch & Martin Starr.

On Sunday, December 4, 2016 at 10pm ET/7pm PT, Nat Geo broadcast the 2017 BREAKTHROUGH PRIZE live from NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, with host Morgan Freeman and a special performance by Alicia Keys. Plus, Jeremy Irons, who recently portrayed Cambridge mathematician G.H. Hardy in THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY, is a presenter, recognizing the accomplishments in the mathematics category. In addition to broadcasting live in its entirety on National Geographic, an edited one-hour version of the ceremony will also air on FOX on Sunday, December 18 from 7-8pm ET/PT.

On Sunday, December 3, 2017 at 10pm ET/7pm PT, Nat Geo Channel premiered the 2018 BREAKTHROUGH PRIZE, hosted again by Morgan Freeman, live from the NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. For the first time, the show was streamed live on the Facebook and YouTube platforms of Breakthrough Prize and National Geographic. The ceremony featured a performance by multi-platinum selling hip hop artist and entrepreneur Wiz Khalifa with musician Nana Ou-Yang. Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ron Howard, actress Mila Kunis, actor and investor Ashton Kutcher, and critically acclaimed actress and producer Kerry Washington served as presenters. Howard, Kunis, Kutcher, and Washington were joined by former NFL player and mathematician John Urschel, and Miss USA 2017 Kara McCullough, who also presented.

On Sunday, November 4, 2018 at 10pm ET/7pm PT, Nat Geo broadcast the 2019 BREAKTHROUGH PRIZE, hosted by Pierce Brosnan, live from the NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and is streamed live on the Facebook and YouTube platforms of National Geographic TV and Breakthrough Prize. The program also includes a tribute to the late, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, who died in March 2018. The 2019 Breakthrough Prize awarded a collective total of $22 million to nine researchers for important achievements in the Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics and Mathematics, including: Breakthrough Prize In Life Sciences (C. Frank Bennett & Adrian R. Krainer; Angelika Amon; Xiaowei Zhuang; Zhijian 'James' Chen); Breakthrough Prize In Fundamental Physics (Charles Kane & Eugene Mele); Breakthrough Prize In Mathematics (Vincent Lafforgue); and the Special Breakthrough Prize In Fundamental Physics (Jocelyn Bell Burnell).
Nat Geo presented the live broadcast of the 2020 BREAKTHROUGH PRIZE on Sunday, November 3, 2019 at 10pm ET/7pm PT from NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. The show features Tyra Banks, Drew Barrymore, LeVar Burton, James Corden, Taraji P. Henson, Allison Janney, Karlie Kloss, and Edward Norton. The evening also includes performances by Lenny Kravitz and, who will be introduced by Adriana Lima.

The 2019 Breakthrough Prize awarded a collective total of $21.6 million to researchers for important achievements in the Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics and Mathematics, including:

- The Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, which will be shared equally by 348 scientists co-authoring any of six papers, and the award will be accepted by Collaboration Director Shep Doeleman of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

- Alex Eskin (University of Chicago) for revolutionary discoveries in the dynamics and geometry of moduli spaces of Abelian differentials, including the proof of the "magic wand theorem" with Maryam Mirzakhani.

- Jeffrey M. Friedman (Rockefeller University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute) for the discovery of a new endocrine system through which adipose tissue signals the brain to regulate food intake.

- F. Ulrich Hartl (Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry) & Arthur L. Horwich (Yale School of Medicine and Howard Hughes Medical Institute) for discovering functions of molecular chaperones in mediating protein folding and preventing protein aggregation.

- David Julius (University of California, San Francisco) for discovering molecules, cells, and mechanisms underlying pain sensation.

- Virginia Man-Yee Lee (University of Pennsylvania) for discovering TDP43 protein aggregates in frontotemporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and revealing that different forms of alpha-synuclein, in different cell types, underlie Parkinson's disease and Multiple System Atrophy.

Additional prizes were awarded to:

- Xie Chen (California Institute of Technology), Lukasz Fidkowski (University of Washington), Michael Levin (University of Chicago) & Max A. Metlitski (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for incisive contributions to the understanding of topological states of matter and the relationships between them.

- Jo Dunkley (Princeton University), Samaya Nissanke (University of Amsterdam) & Kendrick Smith (Perimeter Institute) for the development of novel techniques to extract fundamental physics from astronomical data.

- Simon Caron-Huot (McGill University) & Pedro Vieira (Perimeter Institute and ICTP-SAIFR) for profound contributions to the understanding of quantum field theory.

- Tim Austin (University of California, Los Angeles): for multiple contributions to ergodic theory, most notably the solution of the weak Pinsker conjecture.

- Emmy Murphy (Northwestern University) for contributions to symplectic and contact geometry, in particular the introduction of notions of loose Legendrian submanifolds and, with Matthew Strom Borman and Yakov Eliashberg, overtwisted contact structures in higher dimensions.

- Xinwen Zhu (California Institute of Technology) for work in arithmetic algebraic geometry including applications to the theory of Shimura varieties and the Riemann-Hilbert problem for p-adic varieties.


Other Titles

  • Originally known as: Fundamental Physics Prize Ceremony

Production & Distribution

  • Produced by Don Mischer Productions


  • NASA's Ames Research Center - California USA - Map It!