The Breakthrough Prize handed out more than 25 million U.S. dollars to a handful of the world's top scientists for their achievements in life sciences, fundamental physics and mathematics at its annual gala ceremony in Silicon Valley Sunday night.
Each of the Breakthrough Prizes is worth 3 million dollars, the largest individual monetary prize in science, the prize foundation said, adding that a total of seven of these prizes were awarded to nine individuals this year.
In addition, the prize foundation handed out a special 3-million-dollar physics prize split by more than a thousand physicists working on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) gravitational wave detector, and smaller prizes like "New Horizons" and "Breakthrough Junior Challenge" to recognize achievements made by early-career researchers and high school students.
The 2017 Breakthrough Prize winners include five molecular biologists who won 3 million dollars each for their work in genetics and cell biology, one mathematician and a trio of string theorists who split one 3-million-dollar physics prize.
"There has never been a more important time to support science," said Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg. "The 2017 Breakthrough Prize laureates represent the leaders in scientific research in physics, math and life sciences. Their breakthroughs will unlock new possibilities and help make the world a better place for everyone."
The Breakthrough Prizes were founded by Sergey Brin of Google, Anne Wojcicki of biotech company 23andMe, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and his wife Priscilla Chan, as well as billionaire tech investor Yuri Milner, and his wife Julia Milner.
It sprang from Mr. Milner's decision in 2012 to award physicists who have been working on the deepest mysteries of the Universe and have made profound contributions to human knowledge.
Over the years, as more sponsors have joined, the prizes have spread to life sciences and mathematics.
For the last few years, the awards have been given out in an Oscar-style ceremony held at NASA's Ames Research Center, with a variety of Hollywood celebrities, who this year include Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman, Grammy Award winner Alicia Keys and other celebrities.