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Katalin Karikó, professor of SZTE, received the “Oscars of Science” amid Hollywood stars' bustle

Edward Norton was also photographed with Katalin Karikó at the Breakthrough Prize ceremony on April 15, 2023. The United States' biggest cash prize in science was handed out at an award ceremony in Hollywood, where world-renowned researchers, including Katalin Karikó, professor of the University of Szeged, were celebrated by movie and media stars and other celebrities.

The Breakthrough Prizeis given to “Scientists Changing the World”. The pioneers of mRNA were also recognized in the life science category of the 2022 “Breakthrough Award”: Katalin Karikó and her research fellow were awarded the “scientific Oscars” – we wrote on the SZTE News Portal on September 9, 2021.

On April 15, 2023, at the 9th award ceremony of the biggest cash prize in science in the United States, all researchers awarded over the past three years were celebrated together. As a compensation of the San Francisco ceremonies cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the stars of science were presented with a lustrous, Hollywood-style ceremony. The ceremony was held on the roof of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, where a red carpet awaited the stars of science, film, sports, and media. – according to the coverage of

Breakthrough_prize_KK_FZs_j_20230415_IMG_2158World-renowned Hungarian researcher Katalin Karikó and her daughter Zsuzsanna Francia, the two-time Olympic champion known throughout the United States as "Susan Francia", were photographed before the Breakthrough Prize ceremony. Photo by B.P.

The Karikó Story

The sentences of invitations and newspaper articles, the information on social media platforms, and the personal stories of the only Hungarian researcher who won the “Silicon Valley Oscars” all point out that Katalin Karikó, alumna and professor of the University of Szeged, was celebrated as a top guest at every stage of the Breakthrough Prize ceremony.


A beautiful room of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, which is also known from the film Pretty Woman, was given to Katalin Karikó for the exceptional event. “Elegant Casual Dress” was included as a dress code in the invitation to the reception on the eve of the ceremony.
Also, Katalin Karikó was seated at the main table at the luxurious castle of Yuri Milner, one of the founders of the Breakthrough Prize, alongside the like-minded wife of the science philanthropist host and Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences. In the course of the conversation, Julia Milner revealed that her husband had repeatedly woven Katalin Karikó's story into his speech on science in various circles.


Susan Francia, the two-time Olympic champion paddler born in Szeged (from the left) and her mother Katalin Karikó, an mRNA researcher who came to Philadelphia from Kisújszállás through Szeged, both conquered the celebrity world of Los Angeles. Photo by B.P.

Brigitte Lacombe, a French photographer living in New York, considered it an honor to be able to take a portrait of Katalin Karikó, who arrived from Kisújszállás via Szeged to Philadelphia 38 years ago and settled there with her family. The renowned photographer collects the Breakthrough Prize faces into a black and white photo album.

A three-generation photograph was also taken. The Hungarian biochemist enjoyed the loving attention spread towards her together with her daughter, Zsuzsanna Francia, and her infant granddaughter, Zsuzsi.


Anne Wojcicki, host of the pre-ceremony brunch, is one of the founders and sponsors of the award, and the CEO of 23andMe, a company that makes genetic information available to the public. That's where the Breakthrough Prize winners met.
Katalin Karikó summarized her own story in the 20 seconds available to the awardees as follows: "I came to the United States from Hungary in 1985 with my husband and our two-year-old daughter Susan. We have worked very hard over the decades. Susan, who is here with me today, excelled in her studies and in rowing, winning two Olympic gold medals rowing in the US Women's Eight. I spent most of my time in the laboratory to transform mRNA into a therapeutically useful molecule. As I accept the Breakthrough Award, I reflect on my family's humble beginnings and am grateful for all the opportunities we have been given here in America.”
The biochemist selected for the "Silicon Valley Oscars" was greeted on stage with a standing ovation. For example, the American musician and actor Lionel Richie, or John Legend, who gave a show. A special round of applause was given to her daughter, who, under the name of Susan Francia, won two Olympic gold medals and brought success to America. People were heard saying: "What a great family!" "What women!”

Common points of art and science

The work of Olafur Eliasson, an artist who researches the common points of science and art, is in the form of a troid. As a work of art, the Breakthrough Prize trophy incorporates several natural shapes, from the galaxy to the DNA coil, and awakens thousands of ideas.


"We're here for you," the photographers said from here and there. - "Doctor!", "Doctor!" - they shouted, so that the scientists stood in front of the twenty-meter long line of cameras with movements and facial expressions resembling the American movies. On the biggest video-sharing portals, you can already see how the ex-tennis player Maria Sharapova or the pop singer and songwriter Christina Aguilera entered the gala amid the clicking of cameras.

The star scientists belonging to the 2021, 2022 and 2023 awardees were surrounded by attention normally given to movie stars.

The "Science Oscars" ceremony was previously held in San Francisco. The tradition was broken by the Covid epidemic. More Hollywood stars, media personalities and American celebrities than ever came to the awards gala held at the new location in Los Angeles.

The English actor James Corden, who is also popular as a comedian, was the host of the program again, just like in previous galas. He presented Katalin Karikó as a "super woman". The presenter wanted to show how "smart" she and her fellow researcher, Drew Weissman, are by bringing an IKEA wardrobe to be assembled to the research couple, saying that they can certainly put this together. Actor Danny DeVito, actor and producer Edward Norton, Robert Downey Jr., and Israeli model and actress Gal Gadot also raised the profile of the gala program with their participation.
The "Silicon Valley Oscars" trophy was presented to the awardees in the various categories by celebrities who have repeatedly stated the importance of supporting science.


Hollywood actors greeted the researchers who won the "Science Oscars": Chris Pine, Katalin Karikó, Drew Weissman, Lauren Ridloff. Photo by B. P.

Katalin Karikó, the scientist who played a key role in the development of mRNA-based vaccines against Covid-19, and her fellow American researcher, Drew Weissman, took to the stage as the winners of the 9th Breakthrough Prize. Chris Pine, a.k.a. Captain James T. Kirk of the Star Trek series, which mixes science and fantasy, and deaf American actress Lauren Ridloff presented them with the Breakthrough Prize trophy.


The "American dream" came true in the life story of Katalin Karikó, who founded mRNA-based medical technology with her discoveries. Photo by Zsuzsanna Francia

In addition to the 11 winners of the $3 million grand prize, the 2023 recipients of the Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Award and three recent winners of the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, a global science video competition for students aged 13-18 sponsored by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, részt vettek az ünnepélyen.
Among her fellow awardees, Katalin Karikó paid special attention to Dennis Lo, who conducts nucleic acid-based research. Among the previous awardees, for example, Nobel laureate Jennifer Doudna appeared at the gala. She was happy to meet with the rectors of Rockefeller University and Tel Aviv University.

Who is the real hero?

The Breakthrough Prize recognizes groundbreaking discoveries in the fields of physics, life sciences and mathematics. Inspiring future generations of scientists, the multi-million dollar annual award was created by billionaire businessmen and science philanthropists. Google co-founder Sergey Brin; the creator of the largest social network Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan; the physicist-turned-venture capitalist Jurij Boriszovics Milner and his wife, as well as Anne E. Wojcicki, the CEO of 23andMe, a company that makes genetic information public, founded the "Breakthrough Award". Several of the founders of the award also greeted the awardees separately. Their third child is a few weeks old, so Zuckerberg attended this year's gala for a short time, and his wife, Chan, did not appear.


The performance of the scientists was also presented as an independent film. On the one hand, summary videos were shown. The video "Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman: 2022 Breakthrough Prize Life Sciences" has already been seen by many people. On the other hand, researchers are featured in the film poster The Vaccine, which was created for the Breakthrough Prize.


Edward Norton, the graduate from the Fight Club, and Katalin Karikó, the biochemistry hero of the labs, became friends in Hollywood. Photo by Zsuzsanna Francia

"I also talked to Edward Norton. He played the Narrator of Fight Club, who is dissatisfied with his graduate work. This film is one of my favourites, which I revealed for the first time in an interview with a German newspaper," Katalin Karikó referred to the Zeit Magazin article. The German newspaper made the headline of the sentence highlighted by Katalin Karikó from the film: "If you have nothing, it frees you and you become brave..."


Norton, playing the scientist in the film The Colored Veil, and Katalin Karikó, celebrated as the iconic figure of the researcher. Photo by Zsuzsanna Francia

In The Painted Veil, Norton is the microbiologist who is sent to China to treat a seemingly unstoppable epidemic. In the end, he has to work as a doctor in the remote countryside... He told Katalin Karikó about this role, "I just played this hero. But you were a real one…”


Újszászi Ilona

Photos by: B. P., Zsuzsanna Francia

More information about Katalin Karikó, research professor at the University of Szeged, is available on the SZTE website, and the website of the SZTE Klebelsberg Library.


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