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Yuri Milner Honours James Clerk Maxwell in Speech at the Breakthrough Prize Ceremony

April 2023 marked the prize-giving celebration of the ninth Breakthrough Prize, which took place in Los Angeles, California for the first time. Several A-listers gathered at Hollywood’s Academy Museum of Motion Pictures for the event, which featured a host of celebrity presenters. Amongst these presenters was Breakthrough Prize Co-Founder Yuri Milner, who gave an inspiring tribute to the 19th-century physicist James Clerk Maxwell.

Aside from co-founding the Breakthrough Prize, Yuri Milner has co-founded the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, Breakthrough Initiatives, and Tech For Refugees. He launched these initiatives to follow through on his Giving Pledge, which he signed in 2012. By joining the Giving Pledge, he agreed to contribute at least half of his lifetime wealth to philanthropic causes.

How Yuri Milner Honoured Maxwell in His Breakthrough Prize Speech

Yuri Milner took to the stage to highlight the achievements of Maxwell, who came up with the first electromagnetic theory. However, Maxwell never reached the same level of fame among the general public as scientists of similar influence, like Einstein and Newton.

During his speech, Yuri Milner explained that although science and mathematics can sometimes seem dry, these topics are “full of beauty” under the surface. After all, because of Maxwell’s equations, we now have access to mobile phones, televisions, X-rays, and fibre optics.

A short cinematic film followed Yuri Milner’s speech. The film positioned these technologies, amongst others, as superpowers that we enjoy today because of Maxwell’s research.

Yuri Milner is one of many who Maxwell’s world-changing research has inspired. He also references Maxwell in his short book Eureka Manifesto.

A Night of Hollywood for Leading Scientists

James Corden hosted the Hollywood event, which celebrities like Lionel Richie, Mark Zuckerberg, and Kristen Bell attended. Some celebrities also got involved in awarding prizes to scientists like:

  • Pascal Mayer, Shankar Balasubramanian, and David Klenerman, who created a technology that can read billions of DNA fragments at once, at high precision, at a low cost, and at speed. Scientists can now read genomes over a million times quicker, transforming forensics, prenatal tests, and cancer diagnoses. The scientists won a Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.
  • Jinyoung Park, who co-authored a major proof about phase transitions in graphs and networks; Vera Traub who works in combinatorial optimisation; and Maggie Miller, who works in topology — the study of shapes that can be deformed. All three won a Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize.
  • Charles H. Bennett, Gilles Brassard, David Deutsch, and Peter Shor, who completed foundational work in the field of quantum information. They won a Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

About Breakthrough Prize Co-Founder Yuri Milner

The Breakthrough Prize is one of several initiatives that Yuri Milner has co-founded since signing the Giving Pledge. He has also co-launched:

  • Tech For Refugees, which supports individuals in Ukraine and other crisis-affected areas. Tech For Refugees partners with influential technology organisations like Uber, Flexport.org, and the International Rescue Community (IRC) to ensure refugees receive the support they need to improve their quality of life. Tech For Refugees is constantly looking to work with new partners to extend its support.
  • The Breakthrough Junior Challenge, which encourages young people to engage in science by producing short, educational, engaging videos. With amazing prizes on offer and the chance to share their knowledge with peers on an international scale, teenagers all over the world enter the Breakthrough Junior Challenge. The latest Breakthrough Junior Challenge winner is Noor Haideri.
  • The Breakthrough Initiatives, which seek to answer some of the biggest questions about life in the Universe. Each of the five Breakthrough initiatives works to uncover the unknown in space science. The Breakthrough Initiatives include Listen, Watch, Starshot, Message, and Discuss.

Learn more about Giving Pledge signatory Yuri Milner.

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