Silicon Valley hosts lavish ceremony for Breakthrough prize that aims to give scientists celebrity status and inspire interest in life's 'big questions-
Silicon Valley has a tendency to tackle social ills with big ideas, its feisty startups revolutionising everything from healthcare to education. Now a handful of billionaire engineers have turned their attention to a social blight that affects their own kind: the lack of appreciation (and funding) for scientists.
The second Breakthrough prize for life sciences is being awarded on Thursday at Nasa's Ames Research Centre in Mountain View, California, about a five-minute drive from the headquarters of Google. It will probably be the most lavish awards ceremony that its six winning scientists have ever been to.
Actor Kevin Spacey is expected to host, while comedian Conan O'Brien and actor Glenn Close will make presentations. Organisers hope for the whole event to be televised, and the six prizes will be worth $3m (£1.83m) – each. This is among the most lucrative awards in science, almost triple the size of the Nobel prize, and bigger than the $1.7m Templeton prize. It's expected to be bigger and bolder than the last similar ceremony, held on 20 March 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland, where Morgan Freeman hosted and Sarah Brightman sang.
It's like the "Oscars of science", says Yuri Milner, the wealthy technology investor behind it all. Once upon a time Milner was himself a physics major at Moscow State University, but he ended up dropping out and embracing the world of tech investing instead. In 2009 he steered one of the first big funding rounds in Facebook, before putting money behind Groupon, Zynga, Twitter and Airbnb and picking up a host of new contacts and street cred in Silicon Valley. In 2011 Forbes magazine valued him as a billionaire.