A Tribute to James Clerk Maxwell: Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prize Ceremony Speech

In April 2023, celebrities joined the scientists who have conducted world-changing research at the ninth Breakthrough Prize ceremony. Aside from winning $3 million, Breakthrough Prize winners see their achievements documented in cinematic videos, each introduced by a celebrity presenter.

This year, Breakthrough Prize Co-Founder Yuri Milner dedicated his speech to the historic physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who conceptualised the first electromagnetic theory. Aside from launching the Breakthrough Prize, the Giving Pledge signatory is also one of the brains behind Tech For Refugees, The Breakthrough Junior Challenge, and the Breakthrough Initiatives.

When signing his Giving Pledge in 2012, Yuri Milner agreed to donate a large portion of his lifetime wealth to charitable causes like these.

Bringing Hollywood to Science: The Breakthrough Prize Ceremony

The 2023 Breakthrough Prize ceremony took place in Hollywood for the first time. Some of the world’s biggest celebrities attended the event at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures — Robert Downey Jr, Christina Aguilera, and Edward Norton included.

These celebrities mingled with the scientists who are changing the world today. Prize-winning scientists in attendance included:

  • Dennis Lo, who discovered that foetal DNA is present in maternal blood and can be used for prenatal testing. From here, he created non-invasive genetic tests for foetuses. He won a Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.
  • Daniel A. Spielman, who has made several breakthrough contributions to theoretical computer science and mathematics. He won a Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics.
  • Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, who engineered modified RNA technology to develop effective Covid-19 vaccines. They won a Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences and received a standing ovation at the awards ceremony.
  • Jeffery Kelly, who discovered the molecular basis of neurodegenerative and cardiac transthyretin diseases. He also developed a drug, tafamidis, that slows the progression of these diseases. He won a Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.

Between the prize winner announcements, musical artists like John Legend, will.i.am, and Estelle took to the stage to perform.

Yuri Milner’s Tribute to Maxwell

Yuri Milner gave one of the many speeches at the Breakthrough Prize ceremony, otherwise known as the “Oscars of Science.” He dedicated his speech to Maxwell, a great science figure who has long inspired Yuri Milner — and many others.

During his speech, Yuri Milner explained that much of our modern world stems from Maxwell’s scientific equations. Although plenty of people aren’t familiar with Maxwell’s work, his research has led to the development of microwaves, radar, lasers, GPS, X-rays, radio, MRI, television, fibre optics, microchips, and mobile phones.

As noted in the cinematic film that accompanied Yuri Milner’s speech, we live in Maxwell’s world. It’s only fitting that the physicist should receive acclaim alongside the scientists who are working on the latest research that will benefit society at large.

Yuri Milner has also cited Maxwell in his short book Eureka Manifesto.

Learn more about the Breakthrough Prize.

About Giving Pledge Signatory Yuri Milner

The Breakthrough Prize is one of many philanthropic initiatives from Yuri Milner. Since signing the Giving Pledge, he has also launched the Breakthrough Initiatives, the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, and Tech For Refugees.

The Breakthrough Initiatives

The Breakthrough Initiatives comprise five space science programmes: Listen, Watch, Message, Starshot, and Discuss.

The Breakthrough Junior Challenge

The Breakthrough Junior Challenge gives young people the opportunity to win life-changing prizes by creating short videos on a scientific topic of their choice.

Tech For Refugees

Tech For Refugees teams up with leading technology organisations to support refugees in several ways. For example, while Tech For Refugees partner Airbnb provides accommodation, Uber provides travel.

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