Before Yuri Milner founded the leading investment firm DST Global, he was a theoretical physicist. Science is still his greatest passion, and he’s founded many science-focused projects, including the Breakthrough Initiatives. These initiatives advance research into fundamental science and space exploration.
According to Milner’s book Eureka Manifesto: The Mission for Our Civilisation, it’s vital that humanity invests in these areas. Financing fundamental research can help advance the mission to explore and understand our Universe.
We Are the Universe Waking Up
Many organisations that are serious about achieving a significant milestone have a mission statement. A mission can help an organisation define the goal it wants to achieve. For instance, Doctors Without Borders’ mission is to “provide life-saving medical care to those most in need.”
If humanity had a shared mission, what would it be? In Eureka Manifesto, Milner says the answer lies with the Universal Story.
Imagine it for a moment: the story of everything. It starts with the birth of the Universe and encompasses several “phase transitions.” These chapters of the Universal Story include the cooling of matter into atoms and the rise of communication between early humans.
The very fact that humans are capable of imagining the Universal Story makes us its natural custodians. In essence, we are a conscious manifestation of the Universe, serving as a means for the cosmos to understand itself and tell its tale.
As a result, Milner says it’s our gift and birthright to explore and understand the Universe. This is the mission at the heart of Eureka Manifesto. Milner suggests we can advance the mission with a plan of action that involves:
- Investing resources into fundamental science and space exploration.
- Enabling artificial intelligence to drive scientific progress.
- Celebrating scientists as heroes.
- Focusing education on the Universal Story and using the power of art to tell it.
- Sparking a new enlightenment in which everyone can contribute to a shared culture of knowledge.
Advancing The Mission Through Fundamental Research
Milner has invested millions of dollars into fundamental science and space exploration. His Breakthrough Initiatives are major space science programmes that seek answers to the fundamental questions of life in the Universe, such as: Are we alone?
Milner launched the first Breakthrough Initiative, Listen, with Stephen Hawking in 2015. Listen is the most comprehensive search for extraterrestrial intelligence ever undertaken. The $100 million programme uses advanced telescopes to search for evidence of technological alien civilisations.
Watch, another multi-million-dollar Breakthrough Initiative, identifies and characterises planets within 20 light years of Earth that could host alien life.
Meanwhile, the $100 million Starshot programme seeks to demonstrate a new technology that could allow uncrewed space flight at 20% of light speed. Breakthrough Starshot also hopes to lay the groundwork for a flyby mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation.
Yuri Milner’s Science Philanthropy
The Breakthrough Initiatives aren’t the only venture Milner is funding to advance the mission. His Breakthrough Foundation also sponsors the Breakthrough Prize, which celebrates scientists as heroes.
Co-founded by Milner and other billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg in 2012, the Breakthrough Prize rewards top researchers in the categories of Fundamental Physics, Mathematics, and the Life Sciences.
The Breakthrough Prize also places these researchers’ achievements in a wider cultural context by honouring the winners at a globally televised award ceremony. Stars like Danny DeVito, Kristen Bell, and Edward Norton attended the ninth annual “Oscars of Science” in April 2023.
For the first time, this event took place in Los Angeles. Stars and scientists travelled from all over the world to attend the glittering night at the iconic Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
Milner’s Breakthrough Foundation also funds the Breakthrough Junior Challenge and Tech For Refugees. The Breakthrough Junior Challenge is an annual competition that inspires teenagers worldwide to explain scientific ideas in short, creative videos. Tech For Refugees is a non-profit that backs tech-powered programmes that support refugees.
Milner set up his Breakthrough Foundation to follow through on his Giving Pledge commitment. He joined the Giving Pledge in 2012 to commit to investing in humanity’s leading minds and our shared future. He continues to fund science-focused initiatives that advance our mission of exploration and understanding.