The Breakthrough Prize is a relatively new award. At only five years old, it was established and funded by some of the biggest names in the tech industry. They include Sergey Brin, computer scientist and co-founder of Google; Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of the genetics company 23andMe; Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician;
The award for the Breakthrough Prize are up to $3 million, the largest individual monetary prize in science. It is an award, not a grant, so winners can spend, donate or save the money as they see fit. Among this year's winners are two with connections to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Meharry Medical College alum Dr. Huda Zoghbi is a professor in the departments of Pediatrics, Molecular and Human Genetics, and Neurology and Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine; the director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children's Hospital and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Zoghbi grew up in Beirut, Lebanon in the 1960s and ’70s. She attended the American University of Beirut and was then accepted into the medical school at the university. During that time, the Lebanese civil war broke out, making travel to and from school extremely difficult. She and her brothers were sent to Texas to live with a sister. Desiring to continue her medical school education, Zoghbi was accepted into Meharry Medical College in Nashville.
Zoghbi's lab was responsible for identifying mutations in the gene MECP2 as the underlying cause of Rett Syndrome, and she is now leading work in other neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
The special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics was split between the three founders and members of the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) team. As a long-standing contributor to LIGO, Southern University professor, Stephen C. McGuire, is a named recipient of the 2016 prize. He is the James and Ruth Smith Endowed Professor of Physics and serves as Southern's Principal Investigator to the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. He directs the on-campus Southern University - LIGO Advanced Optical Materials Laboratory. McGuires is also an alum of Southern University.