Science, Now + Beyond

6 of the coolest scientists from The Breakthrough Foundation

This star-studded ceremony celebrates the achievements and continuing research of the top scientists and scholars in the world.

The Breakthrough Foundation was founded to help push the boundaries of science by funding top researchers and publicizing the work they do. Each chosen Laureate wins $3 million in prize money and gets to attend a glittering televised ceremony that celebrates their achievements.

Founded by a group of scientists and entrepreneurs, the main idea was that scientists should be looked at as celebrities, both in terms of their compensation and cultural enthusiasm for their work. The awards are given to researchers in fields like mathematics, fundamental physics, and life sciences as well as the New Horizons awards given to a young scientist.

By the awards’ very definition, the Laureates are all doing cool and amazing research. Check out the complete list here, and don’t be afraid to do a little googling to get your head around the jargon!

It’s easy to take for granted all the amazing developments that have happened in science, technology, and medicine over the years. From vaccines, to the Internet, to better cold medication, these kinds of research make our everyday lives easier.

But, on the other hand, it also shows how far we have to go. Take a look at the work these winners are doing to help cure diseases like Alzheimer’s and to further our understanding of the world.

1. Dr. Huda Zoghbi

Dr. Zoghbi teaches at Baylor College of Medicine in multiple departments, including Pediatrics, Molecular and Human Genetics, Neurology, and Neuroscience. Her research on neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinsons, Alzheimers, Rett syndrome, and spinocerebellar ataxia led to her discovering “a potential druggable target for dementia.” Dr. Zoghbi plans to use her $3,000,000 to set up a mentorship award program for young doctors who need research funding.

2. Dr. Stephen J. Elledge

Dr. Elledge teaches genetics and medicine at Harvard University and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He discovered what happens to cells when their DNA is damaged, and won the Breakthrough Prize on his work on how “cells sense and respond to damage in their DNA and providing insights into the development and treatment of cancer.” He plans to use his money to help disadvantaged kids from his hometown in Illinois and also to help organizations that will likely need extra support during the Trump administration.

3. Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi

Dr. Ohsumi is a cell biologist who studies autophagy, or the way cells repair and recycle themselves. When parts of a cell break down and die, the remains must be properly processed by the cell or they’ll build up and cause problems. Scientists like Dr. Ohsumi hope looking into this process will provide insight into aging and diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Dr. Ohsumi also won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

4. Dr. Jean Bourgain

Dr. Bourgain is a mathematician who won a Breakthrough Prize for his work on relationships in the superposition of waves. Basically he took the Pythagorean Theorem and showed how the relationship between the sides and hypotenuse of a right triangle can also be found in oscillating waves.

5. Dr. Harry F. Noller

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Dr. Noller won the prize in the life science category. He studies ribosomes and the role RNA plays in how they work. Some of his many accomplishments include showing that RNA is a ribozyme, which helps to build proteins, and using crystal structures and X-Ray technology to create an image of a ribosome’s structure.

6. Dr. Roeland Nusse

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Dr. Nusse is a professor at Stanford University and also works at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In 1982 he helped discover the first Wnt gene, which is part of a signaling pathway that is integral to everything from cellular communication, to the onset of diseases, to embryonic development.

Something else to note here is the dedication all these people have for helping the world. Other than awards like this, they don’t live the lives of celebrities. They just care and want to make a change for the better. That’s an attitude we could all learn from going forward, and one that you don’t need a fancy STEM degree to understand.

  • Chelsea Ennen

    Chelsea Ennen is a New York City-based writer and recovering academic with an MA in contemporary literature, theory, and culture from King's College London. Her nonfiction writing has been published on The Mary Sue, HelloGiggles and The Female Gaze, and her dissertation on postfeminism versus third wave feminism in contemporary pop culture was accepted for presentation at the 2016 Indiana University of Pennsylvania English Graduate Organization Inter-Disciplinary Conference. She is the fiction editor of the Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal and a novelist who would very much like to pet your dog, please.