The 2018 Breakthrough Prize Symposium takes place on December 4, 2017, at Stanford University.

Daytime Sessions | Short talks (9:00 AM – 4:30 PM)

Arrillaga Alumni Center
McCaw Hall
Stanford University

The names of the 2018 Breakthrough Prize laureates will be announced at a televised award ceremony the day before the Symposium. For this reason, they will not be released on this schedule until then. All are world-class researchers working in the fields of physics, life sciences and mathematics.

Guest Registration, Coffee and Breakfast

8:00 AM

Welcome Remarks and Introductions

9:00 AM

Chuck Bennett

Cosmology: What's Next?

9:15 AM

15 mins + 5 mins questions

Peter Walter

Protein Quality Control in Health and Disease

9:40 AM

15 mins + 5 mins questions

Emmanuel Candes

Sailing Through Data: Discoveries and Mirages

10:05 AM

15 mins + 5 mins questions

Gary Hinshaw

What can we learn about Dark Energy in the next 10 years - and how?

10:30 AM

15 mins + 5 mins questions

Joanne Chory

Using Genetics to Fight Climate Change

10:55 AM

15 mins + 5 mins questions

Lyman Page

The Future: Gravitational Waves from the Birth of the Universe (in 10 years!?)

11:20 AM

15 mins + 5 mins questions


Life sciences poster session featuring Stanford biosciences students and postdocs (Fischer Conference Center)

11:45 AM


12:45 PM

Don Cleveland

Designer DNA Drugs for ALS, Huntington’s Disease and Beyond

12:50 PM

15 mins + 5 mins questions

James McKernan

A Tour of Algebraic Geometry

1:15 PM

25 mins + 5 mins questions

Kazutoshi Mori

The Unfolded Protein Response: from Sensor Molecules to Evolution and Application

1:50 PM

15 mins + 5 mins questions

Norman Jarosik

Optical SETI – A New Tool in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

2:15 PM

15 mins + 5 mins questions


2:40 PM

Douglas Stanford

Quantum Black Holes

2:55 PM

15 mins + 5 mins questions

Maryna Viazovska

Sphere Packing in High Dimensions

3:20 PM

15 mins + 5 mins questions

Kim Nasmyth

How are DNAs woven into chromosomes?

3:45 PM

15 mins + 5 mins questions

David Spergel

What can we learn in the next ten years about the Universe’s Beginning and Its End?

4:10 PM

15 mins + 5 mins questions

Evening session | Panel discussions (5:00 PM – 6:30 PM)

Knight Management Center
Cemex Auditorium
Stanford University

Three cross-disciplinary panel discussions, each about 30 minutes long, featuring Breakthrough Prize laureates from 2017 and previous years. They are hosted by entrepreneur and investor Yuri Milner, and focus broadly on what the decade ahead could bring in three key domains:

How Much Can We Know?

5:00 PM – 5:30 PM

Karl Deisseroth (Stanford University)
Cumrun Vafa (Harvard University)
Christopher Hacon (University of Utah)

Our brains evolved to understand the African savannah. Can those same brains comprehend quantum gravity? Are there hard biological limits on how smart we can get? If so, can we surpass them by becoming post-biological? What about hard physical or mathematical limits on what can be known?

How Far Can Life Go?

5:30 PM – 6:00 PM

Natalie Batalha (NASA Ames Research Center)
Lyman Page (Princeton University)
Gary Ruvkun (Harvard Medical School)

For most of Earth’s history, life was single-celled. Now we have global civilization and architecture that can be seen from space. What are the triggers for life to become complex? Can we become an interplanetary species? Would we become multiple species? What are the physical limits of our ability to move matter and capture energy? What are the biological limits to complexity? What are our chances of survival on the scale of millions of years?

Is Nature Simple?

6:00 PM – 6:30 PM

Kim Nasmyth (University of Oxford)
Terry Tao (UCLA)
David Spergel (Princeton University)

Science seeks simple causes underpinning complex events. But how do we know nature is simple? Could it be fundamentally complex? If so, can science ever hope to tease out its secrets? Why was the Universe at the Big Bang almost completely simple? Could life be much simpler in structure than RNA/DNA-based life? Are simpler mathematical proofs intrinsically more valuable? Is simplicity itself an aesthetic or a logical quality?

New Horizons dinner

The New Horizons Prizes honor early-career physicists and mathematicians who have already made significant contributions to knowledge. At this dinner, an invited audience will be introduced to the 2018 New Horizons winners, who will receive their awards and each make brief remarks.

  • 6:45 PM – Reception
  • 7:15 PM – Award presentation
  • 7:45 PM – Dinner

Arrillaga Alumni Center
McCaw Hall
Stanford University

December 4, 2017
6:45 PM – 9:00 PM

Please note that this event is by invitation only.