Celebrities converge on Silicon Valley to honor world's top scientists

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (KGO) -- They call it the Oscars of science. The world's top scientists were the stars tonight at the 6th Annual Breakthrough Prize held at the Nasa Ames Research Center in Mountain View. The red carpet event drew luminaries in the world of sports, tech, entertainment and politics.

"This is not our normal everyday life when we're working in our laboratories or working at our telescopes so this is like another world to us," said Chuck Bennett, a Johns Hopkins University astrophysicist and one of the 2018 Breakthrough Prize winners.

Celebrities who are used to this kind of treatment think it's wonderful that at least for this night, the tables are turned.

"In Hollywood, we're often really good at shining the spotlight and giving each other awards for arts and entertainment and I think it's really important to shift the spotlight and reward intelligence and science and creativity in another space that's really, really important," said actress Kerry Washington, star of the ABC series, Scandal.

Founded by a handful of Silicon Valley big shots, the Breakthrough Prize honors individuals who have made profound contributions in physics, life sciences and mathematics. Each winner receives 3 million dollars. Astrophysicist Gary Hinshaw of the University of British Columbia was part of the team honored for mapping the oldest light in the universe.

"The previous award winners in this prize are the ones who award the next winners," said Hinshaw. "So it's a very much peer reviewed effort so we feel like we're honored by our peers."

This is the 6th year of the Breakthrough Prize and many previous winners say the award has been life changing.

"I think it's you know giving some competition to the Nobel Prize in fame," said Prof. Andrew Strominger, a 2017 Breakthough Prize recipient.

And fame is something many who attended the Breakthrough Prize ceremony can relate to.

"It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of goal setting, a lot of pushing beyond what you think is possible sometimes and I kind of know how that works so I have so much respect for everything they've done," said swimmer and Olympic Gold Medalist Katie Ledecky.
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