Celebrating James Clerk Maxwell: Yuri Milner’s Tribute at the Breakthrough Prize Ceremony

In April 2023, science philanthropist Yuri Milner paid tribute to a 19th-century physicist at the star-studded Breakthrough Prize ceremony in Hollywood. James Clerk Maxwell developed the first theory of electromagnetic radiation and predicted the existence of non-visible electromagnetic waves. The Breakthrough Prize tribute celebrated Maxwell’s often-overlooked but vital contribution to science.

Who Is Yuri Milner?

Yuri Milner is a billionaire tech investor and a long-time science enthusiast. He joined the Giving Pledge in 2012 to formalize his commitment to science philanthropy. Since then, he’s founded the Breakthrough Prize, the Breakthrough Initiatives, the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, and Tech For Refugees.

In line with Yuri Milner’s Giving Pledge to invest in science and scientists, the Breakthrough Prize rewards brilliant researchers with substantial prizes. Each Breakthrough Prize laureate receives $3 million. Meanwhile, early-career scientists and mathematicians receive prizes ranging from $50,000 to $100,000.

The Giving Pledge signatory created the Breakthrough Junior Challenge in 2015. The global competition invites high schoolers to develop and submit a creative video that simplifies a complex scientific theory. Through the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, teenagers worldwide contribute to science education.

Another aspect of Yuri Milner’s Giving Pledge is his promise to invest in humanity’s shared future. To this end, the billionaire has co-launched Tech For Refugees and The Breakthrough Initiatives.

Working with tech innovators like and Uber, Tech For Refugees helps improve the lives of refugees through technology. Most recently, Tech For Refugees has partnered with UNICEF USA to support education for Ukrainian children.

Meanwhile, the multi-million-dollar Breakthrough Initiatives are driving progress in fields like interstellar travel, cosmology, and astrobiology. Each Breakthrough Initiative examines a different corner of the possibilities in space science research.

Who Is James Clerk Maxwell?

Maxwell was a Scottish-born scientist who lived from June 13, 1831 to November 5, 1879. He formulated the first theory that describes light, electricity, and magnetism as related phenomena. This theory laid the foundations for the discovery of the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes radio waves, microwaves, and X-rays.

The human eye cannot detect these waves, but Maxwell was able to predict their existence through his brilliant equations. Harnessing the power of different types of radiation has enabled us to develop life-changing inventions like:

● Radar.
● Radio.
● Television.
● Microchips.
● Mobile phones.
● Lasers.
● Fiber optics.

Maxwell’s discoveries have given rise to the field of modern physics, including disciplines like special relativity and quantum mechanics.

Maxwell’s legacy has inspired many people, including Albert Einstein and — more recently — Yuri Milner. The philanthropist touched on Maxwell’s ground-breaking work in his short book Eureka Manifesto (2021).

What Is the Breakthrough Prize Ceremony?

The Breakthrough Prize ceremony is a globally televised annual event. Breakthrough Prize-winning scientists rub shoulders with A-list actors and leaders from the worlds of business and tech. Breakthrough Junior Challenge winners also attend the ceremony.

This year, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures was the venue for the Breakthrough Prize ceremony for the first time. James Corden hosted the evening, and John Legend,, and Estelle performed live music. Celebrities like Brie Larson, Mark Zuckerberg, and Gal Gadot presented prizes to the Breakthrough Prize laureates.

Yuri Milner also took to the stage to introduce a video tribute to Maxwell. He explained that many of the technological wonders of our modern world came from Maxwell’s equations. Despite this, many of us have never heard of him. Yuri Milner added that, like the Breakthrough Prize laureates the ceremony celebrates, Maxwell deserves recognition for his work.

Learn more about Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough Prize.

Kody Zoie
the authorKody Zoie