Xiaowei Zhuang, the David B. Arnold Jr. Professor of Science, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, has been named the recipient of the 2019 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences in recognition of her pioneering work in the development of super-resolution microscopy techniques that have transformed research capabilities in fields from chemistry to biology to medicine.
“I was thrilled [to receive this news],” Zhuang said. “It is really a remarkable honor. Being recognized is gratifying, but as scientists we don’t work with a goal of winning prizes. We do science because we love it and we love making discoveries and understanding how things work … but this is a very pleasant surprise.”
Created in 2012 by Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, and Yuri and Julia Milner to recognize paradigm-shifting research in a number of fields, the Breakthrough Prizes are intended to celebrate the achievements of the world’s top scientists and inspire the next generation of research.
Sometimes called the “Oscars of Science,” the prizes are the richest in the field, with winners receiving $3 million. In addition to the life sciences, prizes are handed out in mathematics and fundamental physics.
Thus far, Zhuang said, she hasn’t contemplated how to spend the money that comes with the prize.
“I have to say I have not been thinking about it at all,” she said. “It’s one of those things … honestly, I don’t know. Maybe when it sinks in and I receive the money, and I have to really think about it, then I’ll make a decision.”
Zhuang was selected for the prize by a committee made up of past laureates, “for discovering hidden structures in cells by developing super-resolution imaging — a method that transcends the fundamental spatial resolution limit of light microscopy.”