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Nine physicists bag $27m prize

Andrei Linde

Andrei Linde from Stanford University was one of nine physicists to receive the inaugural Fundamental Physics Prize. (Courtesy: L A Cicero)

By Michael Banks

Nine physicists just got one hell of a lot richer after bagging the inaugural Fundamental Physics Prize together with a cool $3m each.

If you haven’t heard of the prize before, don’t worry – I hadn’t either until last Tuesday, when it was announced that Nima Arkani-Hamed, Juan Maldacena, Nathan Seiberg and Edward Witten, all from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, had won the prize.

They shared it with Alan Guth from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Alexei Kitaev from the California Institute of Technology, Maxim Kontsevich from the Institute of Advanced Scientific Studies in Paris, Andrei Linde from Stanford University and Ashoke Sen from the Harish-Chandra Research Institute in India. They all bagged $3m each, taking the total prize fund to a whopping $27m.

The prize has been awarded by the Russian investor Yuri Milner, who has a degree in physics from Moscow State University but who dropped out of a PhD in theoretical physics at the Lebedev Physical Institute. After a stint working at the World Bank in Washington, DC, he turned to investing in start-up companies, apparently making his millions by investing in Internet firms such as Facebook, Twitter and Zynga.

Milner has now set up the Fundamental Physics Prize Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that, according to its website, is “dedicated to advancing our knowledge of the universe at the deepest level”.

The foundation has established two prizes: the Fundamental Physics Prize, which “recognizes transformative advances in the field” and which was won by the nine physicists above; and the New Horizons in Physics Prize, which will be awarded to “promising junior researchers” and carries a cash reward of $100,000 for each recipient.

The Fundamental Physics Prize is even bigger than the annual science-and-religion gong from the Templeton Foundation, which gives a single winner $1.7m, as well as the Nobel Prize for Physics, which this year will be $1.2m (and possibly shared by three people) after the prize fund was cut by 20% from last year’s total.

Speaking to, Linde says he heard that he had won the prize only a few days before the announcement. He says he was surprised by the amount of cash on offer, but added that “physicists always complained that they get less money than the football coaches of the teams of their universities”. Linde hopes that the prize will “increase [the] prestige and morale of all people in [the] scientific community”.

This year’s winners were chosen by Milner himself, but next year’s recipients will be chosen by a selection committee of previous winners.

So if you want to get your hands on next year’s prize, then you will have to be nominated online by someone else, but there are no age restrictions and previous winners can also win the prize again.

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