Founder, DST Global, Breakthrough Prizes, Breakthrough Initiatives
Yuri Milner is a technology investor and science philanthropist, and the founder of the Breakthrough Initiatives.
Growing up in the 1960s, he read Iosif Shklovsky and Carl Sagan’s book Intelligent Life in the Universe, which sparked a lifelong fascination with the subject. Inspired by this and other big questions in science, he studied physics to postgraduate level, after which he switched to business, studying at the Wharton School in Philadelphia and eventually founding a successful technology company.
In 2010 Yuri Milner founded DST Global, which under his auspices has grown into one of the world’s largest tech investment funds. Its portfolio includes several of the leading internet platforms in Silicon Valley and worldwide.
In 2012 Yuri Milner and his wife Julia joined Bill and Melinda Gates’ and Warren Buffet’s Giving Pledge, committing to donate at least half of their wealth during their lifetime to primarily scientific causes. That same year, in partnership with Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, and Ann Wojcicki, they launched the Breakthrough Prize, the world’s biggest award for science and mathematics. They went on to add the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, a global science video competition for high-school students.
When considering scientific fields where private funding could have a positive impact, he returned again to that big question, Are we alone in the Universe? In 2015 he and Stephen Hawking launched the Breakthrough Initiatives, a set of space science programs focused on the search for life beyond Earth and future of humanity as a space-faring species. Breakthrough Listen is a $100m astronomical program using many of the world’s most powerful telescopes to search for signals from civilizations beyond Earth. It is by far the largest such search ever undertaken, and since its inception is considered to have revitalized the field of SETI and advanced its capabilities as a rigorous scientific field. Breakthrough Watch uses Earth- and space-based instruments to looks for evidence of primitive cellular life on nearby planets. And in 2016 Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking launched the $100m Breakthrough Starshot, the first serious attempt to design and engineer an interstellar space probe that could reach the nearest star system within a generation.