Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The $3 million physicists

This is so cool! This Russian billionaire named Yuri Milner has established a prize called the Fundamental Physics Prize to reward distinguished physicists around the world. Physicists are known for not being very knowledgeable about money, maybe mostly because they don't have much of it. And also maybe because they are too preoccupied with trying to figure out how the universe got here and what makes it tick to worry about things like money. Milner, himself, it seems, is a physics drop-out. He dropped out of graduate school in 1989 and went on to make his billions by investing in Internet companies like Facebook and Groupon.

Anyway, Milner established this physics prize which carries with it an award to each winning individual of $3 million, making it the most  lucrative academic prize in the world. The Nobel Prize, by comparison, comes in at a paltry $1.2 million. The winners of the prize were nine physicists from around the world, most of whom I had never heard. (Well, actually, I'm not sure I had ever heard of any of them.)

One of the winners was Alan H. Guth, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who came up with the idea of cosmic inflation, meaning that he theorized a period of extremely rapid expansion in the first instant of the universe. Guth's reaction to winning the prize? He said that at the time the prize was awarded he had $200 in his bank account. The $3 million was wired directly to his account. “Suddenly, it said, $3,000,200,” he said. “The bank charged a $12 wire transfer fee, but that was easily affordable.” 

Nine physicists received the award but none of them was our favorite theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper. I wonder why.

Yeah, that Sheldon. He's certainly a prize.

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