clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Silicon Valley Players Hand Out $15 Million for Breakthrough Prizes in Math

"Mathematics is essential for driving human progress and innovation in this century," said Zuckerberg.

The Breakthrough Prize Foundation, which is funded by a group of high-profile Silicon Valley luminaries, has named five winners of its first mathematics prize.

This prize, announced last year by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and investor Yuri Milner, will give $3 million each to the winners and is aimed at making math a more appealing career choice.

The Breakthrough Prizes — there is also one in life science and one in fundamental physics — were created by the pair, as well as their wives, Priscilla Chan and Julia Milner, with Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang.

Along with the news of the award, the Breakthrough Foundation also said that former Genentech CEO Art Levinson will step down as chairman of the life science board, due to the time commitments of his new job as CEO of Calico, an R&D biotech company owned by Google. Cori Bargmann, a neurobiologist at Rockefeller University and a previous Breakthrough Prize winner in life sciences, will succeed him.

The math winners and their achievements as described by the foundation are:

Simon Donaldson, Stony Brook University and Imperial College London, for the new revolutionary invariants of four-dimensional manifolds and for the study of the relation between stability in algebraic geometry and in global differential geometry, both for bundles and for Fano varieties.

Maxim Kontsevich, Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques, for work making a deep impact in a vast variety of mathematical disciplines, including algebraic geometry, deformation theory, symplectic topology, homological algebra and dynamical systems.

Jacob Lurie, Harvard University, for his work on the foundations of higher category theory and derived algebraic geometry; for the classification of fully extended topological quantum field theories; and for providing a moduli-theoretic interpretation of elliptic cohomology.

Terence Tao, University of California, Los Angeles, for numerous breakthrough contributions to harmonic analysis, combinatorics, partial differential equations and analytic number theory.

Richard Taylor, Institute for Advanced Study, for numerous breakthrough results in the theory of automorphic forms, including the Taniyama-Weil conjecture, the local Langlands conjecture for general linear groups, and the Sato-Tate conjecture.

These five will now make up the selection committee that will pick the next winners annually.

“Mathematics is essential for driving human progress and innovation in this century,” said Zuckerberg, in a statement.

Milner added that “mathematics is the most fundamental of the sciences — the language they are all written in.”

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.