Daytime Sessions | Talks

Welcome Reception
Robertson Atrium

10:00 – 11:00 AM

Session 1: Laureate Talks

Moderator: Matt Van de Rijn,Sabine Kohler, MD, Professor in Pathology at Stanford

11:00 - 12:30 PM

Shinya Yamanaka | 2013 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences
Recent Progress in iPS Cell Research and Future Applications

Anticipated applications of induced pluripotent stem cells – cells that have been reprogrammed to differentiate into virtually any type of adult cell – including drug screening, elucidation of disease mechanisms and preventative therapies.

11:00 AM

Harry Noller | 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences
The Ribosome: Mothership of Life. Can it tell us where we came from?

While DNA encodes our genes, the related molecule RNA does crucial work in expressing it – forming a copy of the DNA strand and providing much of the machinery of the ribosomes, which translate that copy into proteins. The fundamental nature of RNA’s role in the process suggest that it was the first molecule that could activate its own replication: i.e. that life began with an “RNA world". This talk explores directions of current research for reaching a new understanding of the origin of life on Earth.

11:20 AM

Huda Yahya Zoghbi | 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences
Adjusting the levels of disease-driving proteins to treat neurological disorders

Common neurodegenerative diseases have many complex genetic causes. But recent discoveries about much rarer disorders - often triggered by a single mutation - promise to shed new light on common diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and autism in the medium term, with exciting implications for treatment.

11:40 AM

Kip Thorne & Rainer Weiss | 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics
Gravitational wave astronomy: today and the future

This year saw LIGO’s announcement of the detection of gravitational waves, a century after Einstein predicted them. Two of the founders of LIGO, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss, look forward to the next generation of gravitational wave experiments – and the previously unknown astronomical objects that they could reveal.

12:00 PM 

Fisher Banquet Hall

12:30 - 1:25 PM

Session 2: Laureate Talks

Moderator: Saul Perlmutter, PhD; Professor, UC Berkeley Department of Physics

1:30 - 3:00 PM

Stephen Elledge | 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences
The DNA Damage Response and the Future: Friend or Foe?

DNA is constantly damaged by cosmic rays and other mutagens, as well as copying errors. The DNA Damage Response is a system for sensing and expediting the repair of these effects. But when the Damage Response itself goes wrong, it can lead to cancer. Stephen Elledge will look at possibilities for targeting this system for treating cancer.

1:30 PM

John Hardy | 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics
Neurodegeneration: moving from understanding to treatment

In recent years, there have been rapid advances in our understanding of the genetic causes of neurodegenerative diseases. John Hardy, who won last year’s Breakthrough Prize for his work on the genetics of Alzheimer’s disease, focuses on strategies that promise to take us from understanding to treatment.

1:50 PM

Joe Polchinski | 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics
Closing in on the Black Hole Firewall

For decades physicists have been chasing a “quantum theory of gravity”, reconciling the large-scale behavior of space, time and gravity with the quantum world of particles. Though a full theory may still be a long way off, many physicists feel that major advances are within reach through the theoretical exploration of black holes – where the conflict between the two theories comes to a head.

2:10 PM

Jean Bourgain | 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics
Waves and integers: some future perspectives

Mathematics is revealing deep and surprising connections between the world of waves – whether heat, sound, quantum or more abstract waves – and number theory, which describes the behavior of integers. This talk offers some medium-term future perspectives on the exploration of this relationship between fundamental fields.

2:30 PM

Coffee Break
Robertson Atrium

3:00 - 3:25 PM

Session 3: Laureate Talks

Moderator: Elizabeth Watkins, PhD; Dean, UCSF Graduate Division; Vice Chancellor, UCSF Student Academic Affairs

3:30 - 5:00 PM

Emmanuelle Charpentier | 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences
CRISPR-Cas9: a glimpse into the next decade

Emmanuelle Charpentier won the 2015 Breakthrough Prize for her work on CRISPR-Cas9, a bacterial immune system whose mechanisms she helped elaborate and re-engineer into a general gene-editing tool. Charpentier has continued to work on other CRISPR systems, and will discuss their potential for enhancing the gene-editing applications.

3:25 PM

Andrew Strominger | 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics
Towards a Solution of the Black Hole Information Paradox

When an object falls into a black hole, what happens to the information it carries? This question represents a fault line of modern physics. According to Einstein’s general relativity, the information must be destroyed; while the laws of quantum mechanics require it to be preserved. But string theory is powering new ideas that suggest a resolution to the paradox may not be far away – which could be a significant advance toward a quantum theory of gravity.

3:45 PM

Roeland Nusse | 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences
Wnt signals, Development and cancer: evolutionary perspectives and future objectives

Cell multiplication enables the development of organisms from embryos, the regeneration of damaged tissue, and other kinds of growth, often regulated by stem cells. But it is also the engine of cancer. This talk focuses on intermediate-term goals of research on cell multiplication and stem cells, and their implications for gene therapy.

4:05 PM

Svante Pääbo | 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences
Towards an understanding of what make humans special

Humans seem to be more intelligent than other animals. But what exactly is special about how we think? Svante Pääbo won the 2016 Breakthrough Prize for sequencing the fossilized genomes of Neanderthals – an extinct cousin of Homo sapiens. For this talk, he will look at the concept of “gene flow” from Neanderthals to humans, and what it may be able to tell us in coming years about the uniqueness of human cognition.

4:25 PM

Cumrun Vafa | 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Physics
String Landscape Search and the Fate of Our Universe

String theory describes the particles and forces of nature as manifestations of vibrating “strings” at an unimaginably tiny scale – trillions of times smaller than the atom. But if it is correct, it has ramifications for the structure and evolution of the entire universe – including how long the universe exists. This talk describes a research program for putting rigorous bounds on the lifetime of our universe, by studying the range of possibilities permitted by the laws of string theory.

4:45 PM

Evening session | Panel discussions

(1) Theory of Everything

Ed Boyden | 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences
Andrew Strominger | 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics
Cumrun Vafa | 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Physics
Host: Yuri Milner

Physicists are chasing a quantum theory of gravity. Would it be the end of the story in fundamental physics? Would a "theory of everything" necessarily be simple, or could it be both fundamental and complex? Is evolutionary theory a universal principle that underlies not just life sciences but cosmology? Could a single theory ever describe the entire functioning of the brain? And is the drive to find a single, simple explanation a reflection of human psychology more than reality?

(2) The evolution of intelligence

Nima Arkani-Hamed | 2012 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics
Harry Noller | 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences
Huda Yahya Zoghbi | 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences
Host: Yuri Milner

How did intelligence dawn on Earth? How common is it likely to be in the Universe? Why did some species get much smarter than others? Why and how did intelligence explode in our ancestors? What is it about the human brain that distinguishes our cognitive abilities from those of other animals? How is intelligence likely to develop in the medium and far future? And how might AI change the story?

(3) How long can we live?

Ashoke Sen | 2012 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics
Roeland Nusse | 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences
Stephen Elledge | 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences
Host: Yuri Milner

This year a prominent paper claimed that humans would never live beyond 125 years. Others claim that mastery of genetics and the biology of the cell will enable us to “cure” aging. Why do we age? What, if anything, can be done about it? Is it inevitable that all species eventually go extinct? And in a Universe expanding at an accelerating rate, what is the fate of humanity and civilization in the far future?