Campus scientists and a cosmology team based at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory were recognized this week with the 2015 Breakthrough Prize for their advances in the fields of life sciences and physics.
Jennifer Doudna, a campus biology and chemistry professor, received the life sciences award for her work in the mechanisms of gene regulation. Nobel Prize winner Saul Perlmutter and members of his team, the Supernova Cosmology Project, received the prize in fundamental physics.
Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google co-founder Sergey Brin, among others, established the Breakthrough Prize in 2012 to recognize leading scientists in physics, life sciences and mathematics.
“The founders think that great scientists should be acknowledged,” said Rob Meyer, a Breakthrough Prize representative. “Fifty years ago, leading scientists were almost as well known as movie stars. Today, that’s not really true. This prize hopes to adjust this balance a bit.”
Along with the Breakthrough Prize trophy, recipients or teams receive $3 million and attend a symposium with other laureates. Stanford University hosted this year’s symposium, and it will be held at UC Berkeley next year. The symposium is co-sponsored by UC Berkeley and UCSF. This year’s winners will also sit on the candidate selection committee comprised of past Breakthrough laureates.
Perlmutter, a campus professor of physics and researcher at the Berkeley Lab, and his group received the prize in fundamental physics for their work in discovering the rapid expansion of the universe. Their rival team, the High-Z Supernova Search Team, which made the same discovery, shared the prize with them. Perlmutter’s team includes Alex Filippenko, Carl Pennypacker and Alex Kim.
According to Perlmutter, he and his team were surprised by the recognition, thinking they would not be eligible for such a prize. Through mapping type 1a supernovae, the Supernova Cosmology Project found that the universe’s expansion is accelerating.
Doudna, also a Berkeley Lab scientist, was recognized with the prize in life sciences for her work on a DNA-editing technique that enables mutations or corrections to DNA.
“I am honored to be part of this celebration of fundamental research and its importance to society,” Doudna said in an email. “I hope that young people see that science is valued and supported in this country, and that funding agencies are persuaded to continue sponsoring curiosity-driven research projects.”
Film and television stars such as Cameron Diaz, Jon Hamm and Benedict Cumberbatch attended the event to award recipients. The award ceremony was hosted by Seth MacFarlane and held at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View.
“It was a very fun event,” Perlmutter said. “There was a red carpet with a line of reporters and cameras interviewing everyone. You could watch people coming down the red carpet, and you could guess whether they were a scientist or a star based on what they were wearing.”
The 2015 Breakthrough Prize award ceremony will air Saturday on the Discovery and Science channels and will be available worldwide via the BBC on Nov. 22.