$6.5 Million for Entropic Gravity

One of this year’s Spinoza Prizes goes to Erik Verlinde. It comes with 2.5 million euros to fund the prize-winner’s research. Last fall Verlinde received a 2 million euro ERC Advanced Grant to fund his research program, so that’s a total this past year of 4.5 million euros, or about $6.5 million.

Verlinde’s current research focuses on ideas about “emergent gravity” (see here and here). According to Wikipedia his work explains the observed value of the cosmological constant.

I’ve no idea how Verlinde will spend the money, but it looks like emergent gravity research will be extremely well financed. $6.5 million I’d estimate corresponds to about 100 postdoc-years. In a couple weeks Verlinde will unveil his latest work at Strings 2011. Since that’s among the most expensive conferences around (see here), perhaps he could chip in to fund it. I’d estimate he should be able to single-handedly fund Strings 20XX through at least 2050.

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19 Responses to $6.5 Million for Entropic Gravity

  1. anon says:

    A scientist that already has a very good, well payed, tenured job, has no need for that type of money. Doesn’t Holland want to improve the world and its own country and science? This certainly is not a very efficient way of doing it. If this prize is supposed to increase the prestige of Holland, it has the opposite effect. Now I think the Dutch have their head up their ass.

  2. Anon says:

    Verlinde solved the CC problem!? News to me!

    He does very interesting work in more speculative directions – the Dutch seem to be good at original thinking in Physics – but really, I have to agree with anon. I doubt this kind of investment in one well-established secure person is justified.

  3. Octoploid says:

    Really, all you guys just sound jealous.
    For me it’s a sign of civilization to be able to spend this amount
    of money on a guy whose work is purely theoretical.
    I may not agree with his results, but I think he deserves congratulations
    and not snippy remarks.

  4. Fritz says:

    Read the announcement two days ago at the hammock physicist (a Dutch tax payer I presume). He is critical about the way the Spinoza prize committee motivates their choice, but enthusiastic about the choice itself: http://www.science20.com/hammock_physicist/blog/entropic_gravity_snatches_spinoza_prize-79902

  5. Tim van Beek says:

    $6.5 million I’d estimate corresponds to about 100 postdoc-years.

    Verlinde will hardly be able to mentor that many postdocs, but if it turns out that the money is spent on postdocs, that will result in roughly 300 papers, I’d guess? The problem is, that postdocs will have to publish wether they have something to say or not, adding a lot of noise to a topic that already shows severe stress due to overpopulation.

    If Verlinde would like to spent the money on a software project instead, 4.5 million Euros are worth roughly 23 man years (good software developers seem to be more expensive than physics postdocs). That would be enough to start a second Twitter or Facebook. But the problem is the same, of course: One needs a good, a very good idea for people to work on :-)

  6. Yatima says:

    >One needs a good, a very good idea for people to work on :-)

    But it doesn’t work that way.

    In research, as in real life, you at first work on something, and then it may turn out to be “good” along a few of several dimensions. As usual, luck is 80% of it. Facebook or Twitter might never have made it for thousands of reasons; they still might flounder in fact once the hype about advertisement-driven revenue lets up.

  7. Bugsy says:

    I agree with Yatima.
    Though it is good to see money go to research in any form, the money would be well spent for instance by the recipient not on research postdocs focussed on one
    possibly valid idea, but rather on more general support for struggling, honest, independent-minded, creative, and not well known researchers, at times overwhelmed by the stress of trying to job-search, teach, and have some sort of family life in the midst of an often commercial, superficial and ruthlessly competitive world. That is, to fund real science…. and real, stable positions which provide some level of security and some time just to happily think.

  8. chris says:

    oh, come on. 4.5ME is not that much. it’s equivalent to about 3 permanent positions. if the work is computer intensive though it will just pay you a few years decent computer time and a few postdocs.

  9. Anonymous Coward says:

    Let me clarify this one bit: the Spinoza prize is both an accomplishment and an encouraging award. Its purpose is to provide academic freedom and financial means to the best, not necessarily Dutch, scientists in the Netherlands. Recipients are next to completely free to spend it as they see fit. For instance, Verlinde’s Amsterdam colleague Robbert Dijkgraaf set up an educational project for school children (http://proefjes.nl/).

  10. Peter Woit says:


    From what I can tell, the main funding for the most computationally intensive area of particle theory (lattice gauge theory) for the entire US comes to about $2.2 million/year


    so Verlinde should definitely be able to afford some decent computer time. Maybe his new work changes things, but it seemed to me that his previous work on this didn’t allow any possibility of computing anything, so costs of computer time are pretty irrelevant to him.

  11. Anon says:

    I am sorry, but I cannot agree with irresponsible throwing money around. Theoretical Physics is so criminally underfunded that to give the money away to some project that has little if any chance of ever advancing fundamental Physics at all (Dijkgraaf’s schoolchildren project) just because your own position is nice and cushy, compounds the crime. It is certainly a subversion of the intent with which the money was given.

  12. Pachu says:

    Im available as software architect/developer for Verlinde :)

  13. anon says:

    Only problem is that Verlinde’s work involves no software. Also, string theorists and computer programmers (e.g., ipad application developers) aren’t exactly dying to collaborate with each other

  14. Michael McGuigan says:

    There is a small intersection between string theory and computing, for example to test the AdS/CFT correspondence numerically at intermediate coupling.
    An upcoming workshop:
    Novel Numerical Methods for Strongly Coupled Quantum Field Theory and Quantum Gravity
    has a description that says:
    “Conformal or nearly-conformal large N quantum field theories, supersymmetric lattice gauge theories, out-of-equilibrium QFT, formation and evaporation of black holes, spacetime foam, and ideas for emergent gravity, all illustrate the importance of the development of new or improved methods for studying strong coupled theories. As computers steadily become more powerful, the efforts of many people using numerical techniques to study these problems are becoming increasingly fruitful.”

  15. Patrick says:

    Not being a a “theoretical” physicist, I disagree with Anon’s remark. There is nothing “criminal” about funding levels in general and certainly nothing “criminal” about the percentage spent on “theoretical” areas. The quotes above are because it is not clear (a) what is “criminal” nor (b) what speculative ideas (to be polite) ideas can be considered to be “theoretical”. Is the argument to be that we should fund every crackpot idea especially if it cannot be falsified? If an individual with sufficient funds wishes to do so…well it is his money. As a taxpayer, I expect public funds to be held
    hostage by conscensus.

  16. Anon says:

    Well, if you can come up with a better adjective than “criminal” when comparing the amount of money spent on research (of all kinds, but including theoretical) with the amounts spent on the military, for example, I am all ears. And I am using Theoretical Physics in the old sense, not as a “String speculations”. Maybe if we hadn’t lost the majority of young Ph.D.’s over the past 20 years due to lack of funds, someone might have come up with better ideas by now. I personally know a number of these lost Physics Ph.D.s, some of them of great caliber, whose loss to the field is a crime, I can promise you that.

    Also, I agree that private foundations can spend money on advancing whatever speculative ideas they want. What I called “criminal” was Dijkgraaf’s subverting this intent by giving the money away.

  17. Anonymous Coward says:

    I think this thread has exceeded its usefulness, but assigning the adjective “criminal” to Robbert Dijkgraaf is absolutely silly. A long-time popularizer of science in general in the Netherlands, he is currently doing a great job as president of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, constituting a pillar of reason and enthusiasm in times of major budget cuts. He’s done more good for science than the next young post-doc probably ever will.

    Besides, the Spinoza prize doesn’t carry a label “money for theoretical physics”; if Dijkgraaf or Verlinde wouldn’t have gotten it, they would have given the prize to a historian, medical researcher or whatever.

  18. Peter Lynds says:

    Just crazy.

  19. maciej says:

    Wow! Quite a lot of money considering the fact that the argument (that gravity might emerge from some more fundamental statistical system) does not even belong to Verlinde but to T. Jacobson (starting from the 95′ paper http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/9504004 ).

    Yeah, but Jacobson does not publish papers about string theory unlike Verlinde – this explains the artificial hype.