Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, but also, executive producer of Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey) will host the Breakthrough Prize – honoring some of the world’s best scientists in physics, math and life sciences with $3 million awards funded by some of technology’s biggest names – during its November 9 ceremony in Silicon Valley. The event will be televised simultaneously by the Discovery Channel and the Science Channel on November 15, and BBC World News will air the ceremony worldwide November 22. Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter will co-host.
Presenters will include big Hollywood names not normally associated with physics, math or life sciences: Kate Beckinsale, Cameron Diaz, Jon Hamm, Eddie Redmayne and Sherlock‘s Benedict Cumberbatch (also now the new Doctor Strange). The event will be produced again this year by veteran awards-show runner Don Mischer and his production company.
MacFarlane is best known for his hit animated show on Fox, and for rather infamously presiding over the 2013 Oscar ceremonies. There he ruffled many feathers among harrumphing older members of the Motion Picture Academy and beyond, but his impudent presence also brought in a younger, hipper (and bigger) TV audience than the show had attracted in years. But MacFarlane’s also been deeply involved in the revival of Cosmos, the Emmy-winning Fox science show hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson that updates the 1970s Carl Sagan PBS series.
The Breakthrough Prize itself will hand out $3 million each to a dozen scientists selected by a group of other researchers (including winners in the first year) in the fields of “fundamental physics,” life sciences and math, including one for research on Parkinson’s disease.
The Breakthrough Prize is something of a post-modern version of the annual Nobel Prizes, whose seven categories include medicine, biology and physics. Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite, established his awards in his will, in 1895. For comparison, the Nobel winners in each of its categories split a pot of 8 million Swedish krona, about US$1.1 million.
This year, the organizers added a Mathematics Prize, honoring up to five mathematicians. As with other Breakthrough categories, its focus differs somewhat from the highest prize in that area, the Fields Medal, which is given every four years to up to four mathematicians under the age of 40.
The prizes were founded by some of the most high-profile (and wealthy) couples in world technology: Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Anna Wojcicki (23andMe co-founder and CEO); Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang of China; Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan; and billionaire Russian investor Yuri Milner and Julia Milner. Milner’s investments, mostly through his Mail.ru and DST companies, have included Facebook, Alibaba and 23andMe among many others.