Yuri began his career as a theoretical physicist, and science remains his great passion. In 2012 he and his wife Julia, together with Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, and Anne Wojcicki, launched the Breakthrough Prizes – the world’s largest scientific awards, honoring important, primarily recent, achievements in Fundamental Physics, Life Sciences and Mathematics. Each year minimum five $3m prizes are given to scientists and mathematicians in these fields (over $300 million committed to date), at a live, internationally televised gala award ceremony in Silicon Valley. The Prizes are funded by the foundations that they established, which also support the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, a global science video competition for high school students.
In July 2015, together with Stephen Hawking, Yuri launched the $100 million Breakthrough Listen initiative to reinvigorate the search for extraterrestrial intelligence in the Universe, and in April 2016 they and Mark Zuckerberg launched Breakthrough Starshot – a $100 million research and engineering program seeking to develop a technology for interstellar travel. These are part of the Breakthrough Initiatives, a series of major space science programs focused on the big questions of life in the Universe. These philanthropic projects are funded by the Breakthrough Foundation established by Yuri and Julia.
In 2023, Yuri and Julia announced that the Breakthrough Foundation would commit $2.5 million to support CERN Science Gateway, a new outreach center at CERN which will engage the general public with the science and technology of CERN and the big questions of fundamental physics.