Caltech Professor Wins Grant
By Janette Williams
PASADENA – Alexei Kitaev, a Caltech faculty member born and educated in Russia, has been awarded one of this year’s $500,000 MacArthur “genius awards” for his work in quantum physics, the foundation announced Tuesday.
Kitaev, professor of theoretical physics and computer science in the Divisions of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy and of Engineering and Applied Science, explores the mysterious behavior of quantum systems and their implications for developing practical applications, such as quantum computers, Caltech officials said.
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 he’d been chosen for the award.
“I didn’t know what the award was at first,” Kitaev said. “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.”
The annual five-year, $500,000 awards recognize excellence and innovation in the arts as well as science.
Often the news comes as a complete surprise – most MacArthur Fellows have no idea that they are even being considered, Caltech spokesman Jon Weiner said – and the grants come with no restrictions on how the money is spent.
Still, Kitaev said he feels it is important for him to use the award to do work that is “innovative and creative” and he expects to take some time to decide how to do that.
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.
Kitaev received a diploma from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in 1986 and his doctorate degree from Russia’s Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics in 1989.
– Janette Williams
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