AsianScientist (Sep. 13, 2021) – Three researchers from Asia have been awarded 2022 Breakthrough Prizes and New Horizons Prizes from the Breakthrough Prize Foundation. The latest selection of laureates was announced online last September 9, 2021.
While technological innovations often claim headlines, it is an extensive circuitry of basic research that underlie these groundbreaking inventions. For example, today’s computers rely on an understanding of, among other things, math and mobilizing electrical charges, while biotech company Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine started from unearthing knowledge on genetic material called mRNA.
Anchored on the conviction that knowledge is humanity’s greatest asset, the annual Breakthrough Prize recognizes pioneering scientists and their achievements in life sciences, fundamental physics and mathematics. Each main award grants US$3 million, while each New Horizons Prize is US$100,000, distributed among the selected early-career researchers.
For its 10th iteration, five main Breakthrough Prizes and six New Horizons Prizes were conferred to nine and 13 scientists, respectively. This year’s winners include two from Asia—Dr. Takuro Mochizuki and Dr. Hidetoshi Katori—among the main recipients, with another rising Asian researcher in Dr. Haruki Watanabe as a New Horizons awardee.
By tackling fundamental questions, these laureates have derived deep explanations to transform several interconnected disciplines. More than being a numbers game, math is foundational to expanding knowledge in different fields, from abstract concepts capturing real physical phenomena to computational models representing biological systems.
Mochizuki, Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics recipient from Japan’s Kyoto University, works in the realm of abstract spaces, exploring objects called holonomic D-modules. By extending conceptual frontiers, he solved module varieties with irregular singularities, which are points that are not well-behaved and produce equations that no longer make sense.
In the fundamental physics arena, Katori from the University of Tokyo in Japan and co-awardee Chinese-American scientist Jun Ye from the University of Colorado in the US worked independently to achieve extremely accurate time measurement through optical lattice clocks.
Since Katori’s proposal in 2003, they have now realized clocks with error rates of only one second in 30 billion years. These could pave the way for detecting ripples in space-time with high-sensitivity deep space and underground probes.
Meanwhile, fellow University of Tokyo physicist Watanabe’s theoretical work on quantum physics encompasses novel phases of matter like time crystals, which constantly change states in an endless cycle without burning any energy. By overturning assumptions about the laws governing the world, such explorations of quantum phenomena could soon serve as a baseline for manipulating and building technological applications out of quantum matter.
Other awardees hail from the US, UK, France and Germany. Throughout the decade of the Breakthrough Prize’s existence, over US$276 million in total has been awarded to honor and support groundbreaking scientific endeavors.
Source: Breakthrough Prize Foundation; Illustration: Ajun Chuah/Asian Scientist Magazine.
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