September 23, 2008

Caltech Professor Wins MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award

PASADENA - Alexei Kitaev, a Russian-born Caltech faculty member, has been awarded one of this year's $500,000 MacArthur "genius awards" for his work in quantum physics.

With a joint appointment at Caltech as professor of theoretical physics and computer science in the Divisions of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy and of Engineering and Applied Science, Kitaev explores the mysterious behavior of quantum systems and their implications for developing practical applications, such as quantum computers, Caltech officials said.

Kitaev has explored the use of quantum physics for performing computation and although his work is focused mainly at the conceptual level, Caltech officials said he also participates in hands-on efforts to develop working quantum computers.

In a statement, Kitaev said he was "very surprised" when he received the call from Daniel Socolow, director of the MacArthur Fellows Program, telling him of his selection for the award.

"I didn't know what the award was at first," said Kitaev, who was born and educated in Russia. "But then I looked up the names of people who have previously received a MacArthur award, and saw that they are very good scientists. I am excited and honored to be in the same group with them."

Kitaev received a diploma from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in 1986, and his Ph.D from Russia's Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics in 1989. He served as a researcher at Microsoft Research from 1999 until 2001. He first came to Caltech as a visiting associate and a lecturer in 1998 and was named professor of theoretical physics and computer science in 2002.

Kitaev is one of 25 newly named 2008 Fellows, who include UCLA astronomer Andrea Ghez, who received her M.S. in 1989 and her Ph.D in 1993 from Caltech, and Harvard Medical School neurobiologist Rachel Wilson, who was a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech from 2001 to 2004.

Kitaev also joins the ranks of previous Caltech MacArthur Fellows, including its two 2007 awardees, Michael Elowitz and Paul W. Rothemund.

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