Bristol mathematician presented with award by Venus Williams in LA 

Right to left: Dr Laura Monk receiving her accolade with fellow winner Dr Hannah Larson and award presenters tennis superstar Venus Williams and actress Zoe Saldaña. Credit: Breakthrough Prize

A lecturer in Mathematics at the University of Bristol has been praised at an awards ceremony dubbed the ‘Oscars of Science’.

Dr Laura Monk won the 2024 Breakthrough Prizes at the awards ceremony in the Academy Museum of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles on Saturday 13 April.

Tennis superstar Venus Williams and Avatar actress Zoe Saldaña presented Dr Monk with the Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prize for her research in spectral geometry, an area of maths studying the relationship between the vibrational modes of surfaces and their geometry.

Dr Monk, who has an eight-month-old daughter, said: "Winning this award was one of the proudest moments of my whole life, second to the birth of Lily. 

"I’m also so grateful to my husband Alexei, who is looking after our baby while I enjoy this amazing experience which is beyond my wildest dreams."

"It was quite a surreal experience when such famous people approach you and ask questions about what you do.” Credit: Breakthrough Prize

Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Lizzo, and Katy Perry also attended the ceremony.

Dr Monk said: "The whole occasion was hugely impressive and I certainly didn’t expect to meet so many A-list celebrities.

"It was quite a surreal experience when such famous people approach you and ask questions about what you do."

The award was created in honour of pioneering Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, who died of breast cancer aged 40 in 2017.

Dr Monk said: “Maryam Mirzakhani has been a big inspiration for me and my PhD was inspired by her amazing work.

“Sadly, we never had the chance to meet but she exchanged emails with my advisor Nalini Anantharaman asking questions, which we have since answered. That’s such a special feeling.”

The Breakthrough Prize celebrates research achievements of the world’s top scientists. Dr Monk has gained just over £40,000 for her award. 

Dr Monk said: “I was lost for words when I got the call saying I had won. The money is helping us to buy a house and we feel incredibly thankful.”