One million dollars. Each winner has received three similar piles of paper trash.
Yuri Milner, a graduate physics school dropout, earned a few bucks [interview] via Internet games such as Facebook, Zynga (yes, I was just playing Mafia Wars for a few minutes), and Groupon and created a new prize:
9 Scientists Receive a New Physics Prize (The New York Times)Each of the nine winners has won $3,000,000, more than twice the Nobel prize. The choice of the winners is very sensible; the selection is impressive, showing that Yuri Milner still understands what's shaking.
The full list of winners include:
Nima Arkani-HamedThis prize will be awarded every year (lots of bucks, indeed) and new winners will be chosen by the previous ones. He must be very rich although sources estimate his wealth as $1 billion "only"; if I were giving away $3 million every year, I would become hungry sooner than 300 years later. ;-)
It's a very good selection, not only because I know most of the new multimillionaires in person. (I can't realize I've ever talked to Alexei Kitaev (the father of the topological quantum computer concept) but I've surely talked to everyone else – and in most cases, many many times.) Concerning the rumors that I was the person who was selecting the winners, I hope that you understand that I am not allowed to say whether the rumors are true.
Alan Guth's office at MIT before he received the prize. Please superimpose this picture onto the picture at the top to get an idea how Alan Guth's office looks today. ;-)
Alan Guth is an ex-student of a 2004-2005 string theory course of mine (he has always had the best questions even though he slept through most of the classes but I didn't take it personally; Alan Guth already announced that his bank charged him $12 when those three millions were added to his account), Nima Arkani-Hamed is a long-time ex-colleague and co-author of mine (I don't want to make it sound much more personal than that because it would sound like licking the buttocks of people who became multimillionaires), and so on. At Rutgers, I've worked next to Maldacena and Seiberg for quite some time.
Of course, all of the winners are theorists and most of them are string theorists. I guess that they may choose more general physicists, too. I think that each of them may deserve a blog entry or several of them that would describe his major contributions to physics.
Congratulations and thanks to Mr Milner for donating several bucks for a prize that seems to start with stellar names, indeed! The prize has instantly become the most lucrative academic prize in the world, beating the Templeton Prize and the Nobel Prize combined.
It's a topic for deep philosophical debates – and your comments – whether or not such huge amounts of money actually help the folks to improve their creativity in the future. I have some doubts about this particular ability of the money; your humble correspondent may be close to Grigori Perelman's idea about the optimum amount of money available to a thinker.
However, I have no doubts that physics needs to gain more authority in the society and creating multimillionaire physicists is a way to do so because most ordinary people understand the concept of the money even if they fail to understand the value of physics. This change of the atmosphere may be immensely good for the society – helping the mankind much more intensely and much more permanently than billions spent by other billionaires for random charities. It's plausible that some of the young people who are starting to work on string theory today will do so mostly because of their dreams to win the Milner prize in the future. While it's not the most innocent and purified motivation, I still think that it's a good thing if that's how many more smart people will be thinking.
There are a few obvious people who deserve a prize with this description, including Stephen Hawking. This Gentleman could be another example, beyond the list of nine physicists at the top, of the important fact (also explicitly stated by Yuri Milner) that people often discover something that is quite obviously true, deep, and spectacularly important but they can't get down-to-Earth prizes such as the Nobel prize because their findings are ahead of their time.
There's also a $100,000 prize for young emerging stars. The smartest young TRF readers may find this amount of money helpful, too.