Founder, DST Global, Breakthrough Prizes, Breakthrough Initiatives
Yuri Milner is a technology investor and science philanthropist based in Silicon Valley. He and his wife Julia are the founders of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge.
Yuri was born in 1961. His father was a professor of economics and his mother a doctor. As a boy, he would listen captivated to his parents’ discussions with scientists who came to visit. Their ideas inspired him, and he went on to become a theoretical physicist himself. Later, he decided to pursue a business degree at the Wharton School of Business, and then a career in tech, founding the investment company DST Global, whose portfolio has included numerous stellar start-ups, from Facebook and Twitter to Spotify and Snap.
Yuri Milner never lost his passion for science, however, and in 2012 he and Julia joined the Giving Pledge, committing to support fundamental science and scientists. In partnership with leading technology entrepreneurs Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, and Ann Wojcicki, they founded the Breakthrough Prize, the world’s largest scientific award. Each year it awards $3m each to researchers who have made major advances in fundamental physics, the life sciences and mathematics, at a televised and internationally distributed awards ceremony in Silicon Valley that features A-list entertainers and luminaries from the world of tech.
Recalling how early exposure to scientific ideas had galvanised his passion for the subject, in 2015 Yuri Milner, alongside Julia, launched the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, a global video competition for high school students. Contestants make a short video explaining a big idea or theory in physics, life sciences and math, and are judged by their peers and a panel of top-class experts in their fields. Each year, the Challenge generates thousands of videos from every corner of the world – recent winners have hailed from countries including India, the Philippines and Mauritius. Winners receive a $250,000 college scholarship, a $50,000 prize for the teacher who inspired them, and a state-of-the-art science lab for their school. And the videos produced by the contestants represent a valuable educational resource for students (and beyond) on diverse scientific topics.
Other programs funded by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation include the Breakthrough Initiatives, a set of astronomical and space engineering programs investigating the questions of life in the Universe, including the existence of intelligent civilizations beyond Earth, primitive cellular life on nearby planets, and prospects for humanity’s own future beyond our planet.