Press Release

Winners of 2021 Breakthrough Prize Revealed

By SpaceRef Editor
September 10, 2020
Filed under ,

The Breakthrough Prize Foundation today announced the esteemed recipients of the 2021 Breakthrough Prize, recognizing a spectacular array of groundbreaking achievements in the Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics and Mathematics. Each year, the Prize is celebrated at a gala award ceremony, where the awards are presented by superstars of movies, music, sports and tech entrepreneurship. Due to the global pandemic, however, this year’s ceremony has been postponed until March 2021.


At a time when the importance of scientific achievement resounds around the world with more urgency than ever, the Breakthrough Prize continues its nine-year tradition of honoring the most profound and transformative discoveries, celebrating both established researchers (Breakthrough Prize) as well as early-career scientists (New Horizons Prize and – for the first time this year – Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize).


In total for this year, the Breakthrough Prize is awarding a collective $18.75 million in support of scientists working on the biggest and most fundamental questions. Science’s largest prize, the Breakthrough Prize has honored more researchers with monetary awards than any other science prize, with more than $250 million being awarded to almost 3000 leading scientists since 2012. The Prize is intended to help scientific leaders gain freedom from financial constraints to focus fully on the world of ideas; to raise the profile and prestige of basic science and mathematics, fomenting a culture in which intellectual pursuits are validated; and to inspire the next generation of researchers to follow the lead of these extraordinary scientific role models.


This year’s Breakthrough Prize winners form a diverse group. They’ve invented tools to unravel the protein folding problem and design entirely novel proteins (including some that could neutralize Covid-19); built exquisitely sensitive table-top instruments to probe the mysteries of dark energy and put Einstein’s theory to the test; developed noninvasive genetic fetal screening tests used by millions of prospective parents worldwide; mapped the neural pathways governing parenting behavior to the level of specific brain cells; revealed and elaborated a cellular pathway heavily implicated in hereditary Parkinson’s disease; and cracked equations describing random processes, from fluctuating stock prices to the motion of sugar in a cup of tea. Each Breakthrough Prize is worth $3 million.


Six New Horizons Prizes of $100,000 each were shared among twelve early-career scientists and mathematicians who have already made a substantial impact on their fields. And three inaugural Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes were awarded to early-career women mathematicians – the number of awards increased from one to three due to the intense interest generated by the Prize and the extremely high quality of nominations. The Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize was established in 2019 and named for the famed Iranian mathematician, Fields Medalist and Stanford professor who passed away in 2017. During her exceptionally prolific career, Mirzakhani made groundbreaking contributions to the theory of moduli spaces of Riemann surfaces. Each year, the $50,000 New Frontiers Prize award is presented to women mathematicians who have completed their PhDs within the past two years.


Full citations can be found below.


2021 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences (4)


David Baker

University of Washington and Howard Hughes Medical Institute


Citation: For developing technology that allowed the design of proteins never seen before in nature, including novel proteins that have the potential for therapeutic intervention in human diseases.


Catherine Dulac 

Harvard University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute


Citation: For deconstructing the complex behavior of parenting to the level of cell-types and their wiring, and demonstrating that the neural circuits governing both male and female-specific parenting behaviors are present in both sexes.


Yuk Ming Dennis Lo

The Chinese University of Hong Kong


Citation: For discovering that fetal DNA is present in maternal blood and can be used for the prenatal testing of trisomy 21 and other genetic disorders.  


Richard J. Youle 

National Institutes of Health


Citation: For elucidating a quality control pathway that clears damaged mitochondria and thereby protects against Parkinson’s Disease.


2021 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics (1)


Martin Hairer 

Imperial College London


Citation: For transformative contributions to the theory of stochastic analysis, particularly the theory of regularity structures in stochastic partial differential equations.


2021 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics (1)


Eric Adelberger, Jens H. Gundlach and Blayne Heckel

University of Washington


Citation: For precision fundamental measurements that test our understanding of gravity, probe the nature of dark energy, and establish limits on couplings to dark matter.


2021 New Horizons in Mathematics Prize (3)


Bhargav Bhatt 

University of Michigan


Citation: For outstanding work in commutative algebra and arithmetic algebraic geometry, particularly on the development of p-adic cohomology theories.


Aleksandr Logunov

Princeton University


Citation: For novel techniques to study solutions to elliptic equations, and their application to long-standing problems in nodal geometry.


Song Sun

University of California, Berkeley


Citation: For many groundbreaking contributions to complex differential geometry, including existence results for Kahler-Einstein metrics and connections with moduli questions and singularities.


2021 New Horizons in Physics Prize (3)


Tracy Slatyer

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Citation: For major contributions to particle astrophysics, from models of dark matter to the discovery of the “Fermi Bubbles.



Rouven Essig

Stony Brook University


Javier Tiffenberg



Tomer Volansky

Tel Aviv University


Tien-Tien Yu

University of Oregon


Citation: For advances in the detection of sub-GeV dark matter especially in regards to the SENSEI experiment.



Ahmed Almheiri

Institute for Advanced Study


Netta Engelhardt

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Henry Maxfield

University of California, Santa Barbara


Geoff Penington

University of California, Berkeley


Citation: For calculating the quantum information content of a black hole and its radiation.


2021 Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize (3)


Nina Holden

ETH Zurich (PhD MIT 2018)


Citation: For work in random geometry, particularly on Liouville Quantum Gravity as a scaling limit of random triangulations.


Urmila Mahadev 
Caltech (PhD University of California, Berkeley 2018)

Citation: For work that addresses the fundamental question of verifying the output of a quantum computation.


Lisa Piccirillo  
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (PhD University of Texas at Austin 2019)


Citation: For resolving the classic problem that the Conway knot is not smoothly slice.



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About the Breakthrough Prize

For the ninth year the Breakthrough Prize, renowned as the “Oscars of Science,” will recognize the world’s top scientists. Each prize is $3 million and presented in the fields of Life Sciences (up to four per year), Fundamental Physics (one per year) and Mathematics (one per year). In addition, up to three New Horizons in Physics Prizes, up to three New Horizons in Mathematics Prizes and up to three Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes are given out to early-career researchers each year. Laureates attend a gala award ceremony designed to celebrate their achievements and inspire the next generation of scientists. As part of the ceremony schedule, they also engage in a program of lectures and discussions.


The Breakthrough Prizes were founded by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Anne Wojcicki. The Prizes have been sponsored by the personal foundations established by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Ma Huateng, Jack Ma, Yuri and Julia Milner and Anne Wojcicki. Selection Committees composed of previous Breakthrough Prize laureates in each field choose the winners. Information on Breakthrough Prize is available at



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