I’m now back to regular internet access, in London for a few days after a trip to East Africa, where I managed to see the November 3 total solar eclipse through light clouds from a location in Northern Uganda. From checking various news sources, it looks like the main pieces of HEP-related news that I missed weren’t very surprising:
- The LUX experiment reported stronger limits on WIMP dark matter, ruling out various claims for evidence of such dark matter particles at relatively low mass. For more about this, good sources are Resonaances, Matt Strassler, and Tommaso Dorigo.
- The $3 million Fundamental Physics Prize as usual identifies “Fundamental Physics” with string theory, with the announcement that the nominees for the 2014 prize are 5 string theorists (Polchinski, Green/Schwarz, and Strominger/Vafa). I confess that I can’t figure out exactly how this prize process is supposed to work. The announcement says that the nominees get a “Physics Frontiers Prize”, a shot at the $3 million, and
Those who do not win it will each receive $300,000 and will automatically be re-nominated for the next 5 years.
What I don’t understand is that Polchinski already got such a nomination and prize last year (and the $300,000 consolation prize for not getting the $3 million). It seems that he is getting another identical prize this year, with another $300,000 or $3 million. On the other hand, the only non-string theorists ever to win this prize (last year’s condensed matter group Kane/Molenkamp/Zhang) didn’t get a second one this year, and it’s unclear if they still have a possible $3 million payday in 2014. Perhaps the rules are different for string theorists, the idea being that you just can’t give too many prizes for string theory.
I’ll bet that Green/Schwarz will be the 2014 winners, on the grounds that if you’re going to hand out lots of prizes for working on the superstring, its co-discoverers should be among the first in line. While this means that Polchinski will only get a second $300,000, it’s in his interest to lose as many times as possible before winning.
As for the $100,000 prizes for young researchers, this year was different than last year. The winners (Cachazo/Minwalla/Rychkov) were two Princeton Ph.Ds and one ex-Princeton post-doc, whereas last year is was one Princeton Ph.D and all three were ex-Princeton post-docs.
- In other news, Max Tegmark, known for his work on the multiverse, is running a “Project Einstein”, which has found 400 theoretical physicists and mathematicians who have agreed to have their genes sequenced. The idea is that they are “math geniuses”, but no one seems to know what will be done with the genetic data for these geniuses. It’s unclear who these “geniuses” are, but we do know that one person who was asked and declined was Curt McMullen. His reaction to this project was what I suspect was a common one:
“I thought it was strange that it was called ‘Project Einstein’, which seemed designed to appeal to the participants’ egos,” he says. He asked the project’s staff and the New England Institutional Review Board, which approved the study, to explain how results would be used. “The uniform answer to my questions was that ‘we are not responsible for how the information is used after the study is completed’,” he says.
If Project Einstein identifies a common gene among its participants, and uses the knowledge to breed a race of übermenschen, they may find they have selected not for unusual mathematical genius, but for unusual ego.
Update: I realized there’s one other remarkable thing about the six winners of the “New Horizons in Physics Prize”. Besides all having a close Princeton connection, none of them has a job in the US. It seems US physics departments are not buying what Princeton is selling right now…