MOUNTAIN VIEW -- The stars came out at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View on Thursday night, but not of the celestial variety.
Instead, some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley -- Mark Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin among them -- were joined by Hollywood stars like Kevin Spacey, Glenn Close, Rob Lowe and Conan O'Brien to honor the winners of the Breakthrough Prizes, which recognize scientific research, at an awards ceremony that has been likened to the Oscars of science.
It is the clearest sign yet that Silicon Valley's days as a geeky wallflower, rarely throwing around its wealth or showing off its achievements, are apparently over.
A roster of tech titans -- Facebook CEO Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Brin, Anne Wojcicki of 23andMe, venture capitalist Yuri Milner, Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma and Genentech Chairman Art Levinson -- are bankrolling the awards, which bestow an eye-popping $3 million on scientists who contribute significantly to the advancement of research in life sciences and other areas.
One of the evening's goals was clearly to raise the celebrity factor of scientists -- and maybe encourage some kids to pursue science the way they idolize athletes or movie stars.
"In his time, Albert Einstein was celebrated as sort of a scientific rock star before there were actual rock stars," said Zuckerberg, who introduced the first award with actress Anna Kendrick.
And the $3 million that comes with the award is unrestricted and not expected to be used on research. It's a recognition of achievement for the scientists, entrepreneur Yuri Milner said. "They should make at least a fraction of what some Wall Street trader makes," said the billionaire, who made headlines himself when he bought a Los Altos mansion for $100 million.
What everyone seemed to agree on, though, is that if any place can turn scientists into celebrities, it's Silicon Valley.
"It's awesome having it here," Wojcicki said of the lavish Mountain View location. "We really want to make it cool for scientists to make these discoveries and think big."
The first 11 laureates were announced back in February, in about as low-key a way as possible when you're giving away $33 million. But another class of six winners of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences -- plus the winner of the Fundamental Physics Prize -- were introduced before the end of Thursday's black-tie event, which wasn't low-key in the least.
There was a red carpet, Chef Thomas Keller brought a contingent from the French Laundry to cater the dinner, and the whole show was held in a tent constructed within the skeleton of Moffett Field's historic Hangar One.
Oscar-winner Spacey -- fresh off a Golden Globe nomination for his role as scheming Congressman Francis Underwood in Netflix's "House of Cards" -- served as emcee of the show, ably following a recorded intro from revered physicist Stephen Hawking with a series of impressions including Johnny Carson and Bill Clinton that warmed up the brainy crowd of more than 200 people.
And there even was a hold-your-breath, Oscar-like moment, when estranged couple Brin and Wojcicki appeared on stage to present one of the prizes. Together, they honored research on Parkinson's disease, a disease that afflicts Brin's mother, Eugenia.
(Wojcicki took only a minor swipe at the Google founder, noting that his casual dress at a black-tie event showed that he is "genetically challenged at dressing." If that's not Silicon Valley's version of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, I don't know what is.)
The rest of the A-list crowd included Silicon Valley luminaries like John Doerr, Jack Dorsey, Marc Andreessen, Jimmy Wales and Larry Page, not to mention other familiar faces like Rupert Murdoch, Gen. David Petraeus, actor Michael C. Hall and singer Lana Del Rey. This is not a crowd that shows up for the Nobel Prizes.
Cornelia Bargmann, a neurobiologist from New York's Rockefeller University and one of the 2013 laureates who attended the swanky soiree, said she was thrilled to be celebrating the prizes in Silicon Valley.
"I think Silicon Valley has a fresh way of looking at the world. The technologists know that the foundation of what they do comes from science," she said. "As a scientist, I really appreciate that."
And for a scientist whose specialty is studying -- in the most basic sense -- how tiny worms smell, it was probably refreshing to get out of the lab.
But don't worry if you weren't invited. The whole show will be broadcast on TV next month, on the Science Channel.
After all, under that nouveau glitz, we're still Silicon Valley.
The creators of the Breakthrough Prizes announced 11 researchers who would receive $3 million prizes when the prizes were created in February; they were honored at the Breakthrough Prizes gala event Thursday night. An additional six researchers were expected to receive prizes at the event.
Here are the researchers honored and the focus of their work:
2014 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences laureates
Fundamental Physics Prize
February 2013 recipients