Earlier this week Eric S. Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard, received a call saying he had been awarded $3 million.
Lander was one of 11 scientists, announced Wednesday, awarded the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Award, which recognizes scientists in the field of curing intractable disease and extending human life.
The prize was founded by Russian entrepreneur and venture capitalist Yuri Milner in conjunction with a board of tech industry leaders, including Harvard dropout and Facebook founder Mark E. Zuckerberg.
The award honored Lander for his contribution to the field of genetics. As the leader of the Human Genome Project, Lander has helped advanced the field of genomics through publically-available genome sequencing.
“For the last 25 years or so I’ve been very interested in trying to understand what’s in the human genome,” said Lander. “In the last decade, the methods have just exploded. Its become possible to read out genetic information about a million times cheaper and faster than you could do before.”
The Breakthrough Prize is the most recent in a series of prizes given by Milner. Last summer, he launched the Fundamental Physics Prize, which awarded nine physicists $3 million dollars each.
With the prize money, the board hopes to enable scientists to increase their engagement with the public and support other future endeavors.
Lander said he plans to put some of the prize money towards EdX—the nonprofit virtual learning initiative launched by Harvard and MIT last May.
Lander, who will be teaching an introductory biology course through EdX this spring, said he wants his EdX course to not only teach students but also be a resource for teachers.
“In addition to my research I care a lot about teaching,” Lander said. “I think there is a great partnership to be had between universities and high school teachers, and middle school teachers.”
This year’s recipients will be a part of the selection committee for future winners. The board plans to award five prizes per year to researchers in the life sciences.
Lander said he looks forward to contributing to the selection process.
“When they give you the prize you feel pretty positively disposed to helping them, so I think we all said sure,” Lander said.
The guidelines for the selection process include that the prize should recognize major achievements, but there are no age restrictions, many people can share it, and it can be received by the same individual more than once.
—Staff writer Rachel J. Sapire can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @racheljsap.