Living in James Clerk Maxwell’s World: Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prize Ceremony Speech

Recognizing the pioneering contributions of great researchers, the Breakthrough Prize is the largest scientific prize in the world. Israeli billionaire Yuri Milner co-founded the Breakthrough Prize in 2012 to follow through on his Giving Pledge to support and advance science. The Giving Pledge philanthropist has also co-founded Tech For Refugees, the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, and the Breakthrough Initiatives.

Each year, the Breakthrough Prize hosts an evening ceremony where the laureates celebrate their prizes and mingle with world-famous celebrities. At this year’s ceremony, Yuri Milner delivered a speech celebrating a ground-breaking scientist who is little-known in the public sphere: James Clerk Maxwell.

Yuri Milner: Inspired By Great Scientists

Yuri Milner started his career as a theoretical physicist, and science is still his main passion. Many great scientists like Maxwell have inspired the Breakthrough Prize founder. In 2021, Yuri Milner published his short book Eureka Manifesto, in which he cited Maxwell and other notable scientists from history.

Maxwell was a Scottish physicist who formulated electromagnetic theory. Many modern physicists consider him the 19th-century scientist who most influenced physics in the 20th century.

Maxwell realized that when electricity and magnetism flow together, they create visible waves that the eye sees as light. He also predicted that there are other invisible waves flowing around us.

Years later, scientists discovered and harnessed these waves, resulting in inventions that essentially run our lives, such as microchips, television, radio, and cell phones.

Because of the fundamental nature of his contributions, the science world often ranks Maxwell alongside great thinkers like Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. But while many non-scientists know the names of Newton and Einstein, few know of Maxwell.

Yuri Milner’s Giving Pledge Philanthropy

Yuri Milner’s passion for science led him to found several non-profit, science-focused enterprises. He formalized his commitment to science philanthropy by joining the Giving Pledge in 2012.

In addition to the Breakthrough Prize, the Giving Pledge signatory has created:

  • The Breakthrough Junior Challenge.
  • The Breakthrough Initiatives.
  • Tech For Refugees.

The Breakthrough Junior Challenge is a yearly global competition that invites students, aged 13 to 18, to submit a video that creatively explains a tricky scientific concept or theory. The winner of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge receives significant educational prizes, such as a scholarship worth $250,000.

The Breakthrough Initiatives are a series of scientific programs exploring the cosmos and searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. Breakthrough Listen, the first Breakthrough Initiative, scans the stars for signals from advanced civilizations. Meanwhile, Breakthrough Starshot is developing proof of concept for interstellar travel using light-propelled nanocraft.

Tech For Refugees leverages technology and innovation to address the challenges refugees are facing worldwide. Current Tech For Refugees partners include Spotify, Uber, and

The 2023 Breakthrough Prize Ceremony

The ninth Breakthrough Prize ceremony took place in April 2023. For the first time, the event occurred in Los Angeles, California, on the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures’ roof terrace.

An array of A-list stars attended the ceremony to honor leading scientists and their achievements. Celebrities like Gal Gadot and Robert Downey Jr. presented prizes to recent Breakthrough Prize laureates, including Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó. Weissman and Karikó’s work was crucial to developing mRNA vaccines against Covid-19.

During the event, Yuri Milner took to the stage to celebrate Maxwell as another scientist who has changed the world. The Breakthrough Prize co-founder’s speech introduced a video tribute to the 19th-century scientist, which reiterated that “we live in James Clerk Maxwell’s world.”

Watch the full 2023 Breakthrough Prize ceremony.

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