Tuesday, July 31, 2012


String Theory, Quantum Computing, and Cosmic Inflation share the distinction of being heavily hyped frontier subjects in physics that have yet to yield a lot of concrete testable results. Thanks to a new physics prize sponsored by Russian zillionaire Yuri Milner, 6 string theorists, 2 inflationistas, and a quantum computer are now rather rich - $3 megabucks each - however.

Four of the physicists work at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.: Nima Arkani-Hamed, Juan Maldacena, Nathan Seiberg and Edward Witten. They work on theories trying to tie together the basic particles and forces of the universe, particularly with a mathematical machinery known as string theory.

The other winners are Andrei Linde, a physicist at Stanford who also worked on cosmic inflation; Alexei Kitaev, a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology who works on quantum computers; Maxim L. Kontsevich, a mathematician at the Institute of Advanced Scientific Studies outside Paris whose abstract mathematical findings proved useful to physicists unraveling string theory; and Ashoke Sen, a string theorist at Harish-Chandra Research Institute in India.

Mr. Milner personally selected the inaugural group, but future recipients of the Fundamental Physics Prize, to be awarded annually, will be decided by previous winners.

Any thoughts on whom was selected and whom not? I noticed that except for Witten, the colossus of string theory who spans generations, none of the early generation of string pioneers made the cut (Green, Schwartz, Susskind...).