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Harvard, MIT professors win $3m Breakthrough Prize from Facebook and Google co-founders

A Harvard professor and an MIT professor have each received $3 million Breakthrough Prizes.

Angelika Amon, an MIT professor, won for her work on aneuploidy, irregularities in the number of chromosomes, the prize organization said in a statement Wednesday. She hopes her work will lead to a new understanding of cancer and identify new therapeutic targets for cancer.

Xiaowei Zhuang, a Harvard professor, won for her work discovering hidden structures in cells by developing super-resolution imaging, which provides images of molecules and cellular structures 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, the organization said.

Both are also investigators at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.


The Breakthrough Prizes are meant to honor fundamental discoveries in the life sciences, physics, and mathematics that are changing the world, the organization said. Its founders include Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, and Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google.

A total of $22 million in prizes is being handed out this year. A gala awards ceremony is planned for Nov. 4 at NASA’s Ames Research Center. The prize tally includes seven $3 million prizes (bigger than the Nobel prize payouts) and six $100,000 “New Horizons” winners.

Harvard and MIT academics also won in the “New Horizons” category.

MIT professor Chenyang Xu, also affiliated with the Beijing International Center for Mathematical Research, won for “major advances in the minimal model program and applications to the moduli of algebraic varieties,” the organization said.

MIT research scientist Lisa Barsotti and MIT professor Matthew Evans were two of three winners sharing a prize for research on ground-based detectors of gravitational waves. MIT professor Daniel Harlow and Harvard professor Daniel Jafferis shared a prize with a third researcher for “fundamental insights about quantum information, quantum field theory, and gravity,” the organization said.

Other prizewinners had gotten their doctorates in Cambridge. Adrian Krainer of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, who shared a life sciences grand prize, received his Ph.d at Harvard, while Charles Kane and Eugene Mele of the University of Pennsylvania, who shared a fundamental physics grand prize, got their Ph.d’s at MIT, the prize organization said.