Physics Frontiers Prize

Yuri Milner’s Fundamental Physics Prize Foundation announced today the process by which future winners of the $3 million Fundamental Physics Prize will be chosen (for more about this, see here), a process which involves setting up yet another prize, the Physics Frontiers Prize. The idea is that by the end of the year, the Selection Committee of previous prize winners will pick three winners of the new Physics Frontiers Prize, and these will be the candidates for the 2013 $3 million Fundamental Physics Prize. One of the three will get the $3 million, the other two will get $300,000 and automatically renominated for the $3 million prize each year over the next 5 years. So, I guess you might not want to win immediately, since if you get passed over the first time, you might end up with $3.3 million instead of $3 million.

There’s also a separate $100,000 New Horizons in Physics Prize “targeted at promising junior researchers”. Nominations for these two categories of prizes can be made by going to the Fundamental Physics Prize website.

The press release quotes Nima Arkani-Hamed, member of the Selection Committee as:

This is a tremendous opportunity to recognize the highest levels of achievement in fundamental physics. We look forward to receiving nominations for outstanding candidates ranging across all areas of the field.

Arkani-Hamed is in India, where an interview with him appeared today (hat-tip an e-mail from him to Lubos Motl), with comments about the Milner prizes:

I really think it’s a fantastic thing for Physics—to have a showcase every year where scientists get to talk about the exciting aspects of the subject. I don’t think any physicist or scientists are motivated to research by the thought of a prize or the money involved in it. But, it definitely helps in creating awareness among the youngsters, and encourages more people to take up the subject.

the Higgs:

There are people trying to figure out the indirect effects between the different Higgs like particles. These are very difficult experiments and will take another 20 years before any confirmation is reached.

the future of particle physics:

What’s going on in particle physics is not just the evolution of the standard model but the rise of a new branch of physics that can solve some of the age old problems. Super symmetry is a very good example of what this physics should look like. For the first time we will have some evidence that there’s actually really fine adjustments of the parameters of fundamental physics hardwired into the way nature works. This will be very shocking for many people and teach us something profound.

and string theory:

In late 1990s one of the most important theoretical discoveries was that string theory and particle physics are not different but different descriptions of the same thing. All the good viable ideas people have had in the past 40 years are now branched together to seek the truth.

Update: Haaretz reports that Witten “said he would probably donate part of the $3 million he won in a surprise award to J Street, the liberal pro-Israel group.”

Please note that any attempts to pursue, from either side, the Arab-Israeli conflict on my blog’s comment section will be immediately deleted.

Update: Just realized that the Witten/J Street news is rather old, from shortly after the announcement of the original prizes. I didn’t hear about it at the time, curious if there’s other news about what plans the prize winner have for their winnings.

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61 Responses to Physics Frontiers Prize

  1. Bob Jones says:


    Yes, of course. They are a computational technique, just like the field theoretic dualities that people work on today. I was just saying that the method of Feynman diagrams is not itself a prediction or something that requires experimental confirmation.

  2. Bob Jones says:

    And about Noether’s theorem, yes, I understand that. I was giving examples of results of physics that were formally deduced from pre-existing theories. These results are “mathematical” in that they do not postulate new physics.

  3. Peter Woit says:

    Anonyrat/Bob Jones,

    Enough, go watch the debate or something…

  4. Peter Woit says:


    Thanks. I added a link to the Haaretz story. Your comment was caught for a while in the spam queue. I had noticed earlier today that Lubos Motl was calling for your death based on the quote he didn’t realize was from Witten. I guess you and Witten can join me and Smolin in the club…

    As noted in the update: I want no part of the behavior that discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict brings out in people. If you can make an interesting comment about the news of Witten’s choice of what to do with his money without trying to score points for the Israelis or the Palestinians, that’s fine. Otherwise, go argue about this elsewhere.

    Oh, just realized this is rather old news, from early August…

  5. Anonyrat says:

    The Milner Prize for physics makes the World Wrestling Federation seem respectable, and that is an on-topic assessment (see Peter, what happens when you tell people to watch the debate….).

  6. Guy says:

    Thanks for the reply Peter and I’m still alive and in the club despite someone’s death threat. To me any true physicist can’t escape politics/justice issues which explains why we might see prize money going in part to social causes. Didn’t realise article was from August.

    On a side note, it’s funny that you would need to solve 3 Millenium Prize problems to get the same money as Milner Prize. And even more ironic is that Milner Prizes have gone for string theory achievements, which itself is so much maths than experiment till who knows. At the end of the day it depends whether the billionaire likes tea or coffee.

  7. fuzzy says:

    the words can be misleading. apparently, these people speak of physics in the same sense as galilei, newton, einstein, pauli did… but even in finance and in mathematics the same word “derivative” is used, but the sense is slightly different

  8. Clyde Davies says:

    I have to say I think this prize is a stupid idea. There’s too much speculation going in physics right now anyway, and not enough consolidation and verification. Why encourage, let alone reward it? But what would I know … I’m a chemist.

  9. Yatima says:

    For people interested in where the rubber hits the road there is a (too short – 4 pages) article in IEEE Software of September/October. “The Software behind the Higgs Boson Discovery” by David Rousseau, who managed Atlas offline software until March 2012 ( IEEE has it hidden behind a paywall, but some google-fu may elicit a “liberated” version.

    News from this weekend include the announcement that the Templeton Foundation is sponsoring the search for Dyson spheres ( This is has been done before with no conclusive results (

  10. Armin Nikkhah Shirazi says:

    I wonder whether the establishment of this new prize reflects the possibility that originally the FPP was offered to more than 9 people, since there is then enough money for 10 Frontiers prizes left over for each declined FPP, and if anyone really did decline, it would be really interesting to know the reasons for doing so

  11. Peter Woit says:


    I have it on good authority that no one declined the prize. The amount of money to be devoted to these prizes I think is just Milner’s choice: he isn’t working with a fixed sum of money, but can devote some more to the prizes if he sees a good reason. The new prizes are probably an idea he liked that came up while trying to figure out the details of how best to choose the next year’s winner (it’s not at all obvious how to best have 9 people vote on this, having a “run-off” like this is one way to go).

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