Science & Environment

'Biggest prize in science' announced

Image caption The Breakthough Prizes aim to introduce some razzmatazz" into science

The first winners have been announced for a new prize for mathematics.

Five researchers have been awarded the Breakthrough Prize for their groundbreaking work.

The Breakthrough Prizes are awarded for recent achievements in fundamental physics, life sciences and mathematics.

The organisers describe them as the "biggest science awards in the world" as they offer the most prize money - $3m (£1.76m) for each.

Among the winners are Professor Richard Taylor, a British mathematician currently working at the Institute of Advance Studies in Princeton, New Jersey. He is a leader in the field of number theory and has helped to develop powerful new techniques to solve longstanding mathematical problems. He told BBC News that he felt "very surprised, excited and lucky" to win the award.

He said he had not decided what he would do with his prize money, but said he wanted spend it on something that would benefit his field.

"Mathematics is a team effort, involving collaboration and building on the work of one's colleagues so I want to find a way of giving something back to the community".

He said that such awards were important because they help to attract the "the best brains into science".

"Science has an undeserved reputation of being dry and unglamorous so anything that can be done to change that image is to be welcomed," he told BBC News.

The organisers' aim is to introduce some "razzmatazz" into science prizes, describing their winners as "the real rock stars".

The Breakthrough Prizes were launched by a group of philanthropic technology billionaires including Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, and Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group, and Yuri Milner, founder of investment firm Digital Sky Technologies.

Mr Milner said the aim of the prize was to "cultivate a positive image of science and rationalism, and an optimistic view of humanity's future".

"Outside the field of entertainment, intellectual brilliance is under-capitalized in our society. 58 years ago, one of the most famous men on earth was not an actor, athlete or musician, but a theoretical physicist. Albert Einstein's face was on magazine covers, in newspapers and on television, worldwide," he said.

"His name was synonymous with genius. Yet most of today's top scientists - despite opening new windows onto the Universe, curing intractable diseases and extending human life - are unknown to the general public. The greatest thinkers of our age should be superstars, like the geniuses of screen and stadium."

Mark Zuckerberg said: "Mathematics is essential for driving human progress and innovation in this century. This year's Breakthrough Prize winners have made huge contributions to the field and we're excited to celebrate their efforts."

The other winners are: Simon Donaldson from Imperial College London; Maxim Kontsevich, Institut des Hautes √Čtudes Scientifiques in France; Jacob Lurie, Harvard University in Boston, and Terence Tao, University of California, in Los Angeles.

The prize for mathematics was launched last year to help redress the paucity of awards recognising achievement in the field. Others include the the Abel, Clay and Wolf prizes and the Fields Medal.

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