Did you hear the one about the scientist who got a $3 million award from Cameron Diaz? For a select group of life scientists, physicists and mathematicians, it was no dream but rather the second annual Breakthrough Prize award ceremony.

Founders of Google, Facebook and other leading Internet entrepreneurs sponsor the awards to celebrate scientists, generate excitement about careers in science and, as genetics startup 23andMe founder Anne Wojcicki puts it, encourage scientists to “pursue big ideas.”

(Breakthrough Prize Foundation)

For many, the thrill of discovery is reward enough. This year’s winners:

  • Figured out how 6 feet (roughly 1.8 meters) of DNA fits into 0.5 millionths of an inch (about 13 millionths of a millimeter).
  • Discovered that the universe is expanding faster than we thought.
  • Developed a method of brain stimulation to treat patients with Parkinson’s disease.

But it doesn’t hurt to be honored at a black-tie event, serenaded by pop star Christina Aguilera, and handed a trophy like the one at left by Diaz, Kate Beckinsale or Benedict Cumberbatch. And then there’s the $3 million.

Society no longer celebrates scientists as it did Albert Einstein and Jonas Salk in an earlier time, sponsor Yuri Milner tells the Wall Street Journal. “We would like to change that.”

Are you on the edge of a breakthrough? Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Inc., has advice for you.