Making Celebrities Out of Scientists

November 10, 2015

Fancy-dressed hopefuls glide down a red carpet, smile for the cameras, and wait nervously to present acceptance speeches in front of thousands of their peers and Hollywood glitterati. It’s not the Academy Awards, but if Yuri Milner, a Russian investor and theoretical physics dropout, has his way, The Breakthrough Prize will be watched by millions of people worldwide someday. Because science matters.

Recently the National Geographic cable channel aired the third annual Breakthrough Prize, awards given to scientists in a variety of categories, but which all contribute to “transformative advances toward understanding living systems and extending human life.” Backed by Mr Milner, Mark Zuckerberg and many other California tech heavyweights, the awards are handed out by both Hollywood and Silicon Valley celebrities. Sergi Brin of Google and Ann Wojcicki of 23andMe, presented a Life Sciences award to British Alzheimer’s researcher John Hardy, professor at University College London and the first UK winner of one of the $3 million prizes. Says UCL President, Professor Michael Arthur, “John Hardy is a humble and hard-working scientist, so I am delighted that his pioneering work…has been recognized by the award of the Breakthrough Prize.”

All told, the Breakthrough Prize gave out $22 million in prize money to scientists and researchers the world over. Dr Hardy said he will contribute 50,000 GBP towards UCL’s new dementia institute, but that he wouldn’t be replacing his old Honda. “I’ve got very inexpensive tastes.”

If Mr. Milner’s dream of the Breakthrough Prize reaching an audience of between 50 and 100 million people comes true, we may see science as becoming every bit as celebrity-worthy as the film industry. Imagine young girls dreaming of being the next Helen Hobbs, a cardiology researcher and prize recipient, who said in her acceptance speech, “I am grateful for the opportunity the Breakthrough Prize offers to influence a new generation of scientists.” This year  the Breakthrough Prize added a Junior Challenge, awarded to 18 year-old Ryan Chester from Ohio, USA for producing a video explaining Einstein’s special theory of relativity. Watch it here.

Let’s applaud the Breakthrough Prize for not only contributing monetarily to the people working diligently toward scientific breakthroughs, but to bringing a higher profile to the sciences as a rewarding career track. And just because you’re a scientist, doesn’t mean you can’t wear Givenchy once in awhile.

For more information on the Breakthrough Prize, see their homepage and The Guardian article.

Oxford Science Editing looks forward to working with the future Breakthrough Prize contenders. OSE specializes in high quality language optimisation by scientist editors, all of whom have advanced degrees. We pair you with an editor who is already well versed in your field and offer peer review-level feedback. Contact us or email for more information.