Black Hole Research Nets Stephen Hawking $3 Million Prize
December 11, 2012

Black Hole Research Nets Stephen Hawking $3 Million Prize

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

One of the world´s most renowned physicists has likely got something bigger on his mind now than solving puzzles of the universe. Stephen Hawking, who has been shaking up the science world more than 25 years, has won a $3 million (£1.8m) Fundamental Physics Prize for his discovery in the 1970s that black holes emit radiation, for his work in quantum gravity and for his work in quantum aspects of the early universe.

The prize was given by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, who first shocked the science community last year when he doled out nine $3 million prizes to physicists and mathematicians for their scientific achievements. Milner, who describes himself as a “failed physicist,” has awarded this year´s $3 million to Hawking and an additional $3 million prize to be shared between seven scientists from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), for their potential discovery of the Higgs boson (God particle).

Hawking, who earlier this year missed his 70th birthday celebration due to illness, must now decide what he is going to do with the larger than life prize he has been awarded. In an emailed statement to the Guardian, Hawking said he was “delighted and honored” to receive the award.

“No one undertakes research in physics with the intention of winning a prize. It is the joy of discovering something no one knew before. Nevertheless prizes like these play an important role in giving public recognition for achievement in physics. They increase the stature of physics and interest in it,” he said in the email.

“Although almost every theoretical physicist agrees with my prediction that a black hole should glow like a hot body, it would be very difficult to verify experimentally because the temperature of a macroscopic black hole is so low,” he added.

Hawking rose to fame after his 1988 book “A Brief History of Time” was published. He said he has not decided how he will spend his winnings, but will most likely help his autistic grandson and possibly “buy a holiday home.” Although, he joked that he doesn´t take many holidays because his work provides him so much joy.

As Hawking ponders how he will spend his windfall, members from CERN will be following similarly. The seven leaders of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) project and the CMS and ATLAS experiments, will share their prize for their work in trying to hunt down the elusive God particle, which this past July has possibly been discovered.

CERN director general Rolf Heuer said it is an honor “for the LHC´s achievement to be recognized in this way.”

"This prize recognizes the work of everyone who has contributed to the project over many years. The Fundamental Physics Prize underlines the value of fundamental physics to society, and I am delighted that the Foundation has chosen to hold its first award ceremony at CERN,” he said in an interview with TG Daily´s Emma Woollacott.

Lyn Evans, the head of the LHC, said he received a call saying he had won a million-dollar prize. “I was gobsmacked. The first thing you do is sit down. This is great for us, and it addresses some of the deficiencies of the Nobel Prize, which cannot go to more than three people,” he told the Guardian.

Besides possibly buying an iPad, Evans said he was stumped on what he would do with his winnings. “I don't need a vast amount of money. One thing I'm not going to do is ride around CERN in a Ferrari. That would be bad for my image,” he said.

The CERN prize was split three ways. Evans, who has been in charge of the LHC since its inception, of which he was also part of, since 1994, received $1 million. Another $1 million went to four leaders of the CMS collaboration (Michel Della Negra, Tejinder Singh Virdee, Guido Tonelli and Joe Incandela). And $1 million went to two leaders at ATLAS (Peter Jenni, who led the team for 14 years, and Fabiola Gianotti, the current leader).

Prize winners for this year´s Fundamental Physics Prize were selected by an independent committee of physicists. The committee also handed out three $100,000 prizes to physicists under the age of 35 for their breakthroughs in other areas of physics. The committee also nominated a handful of physicists for next year´s prize, which will be announced in March 2013.

Those nominees include: Alexander Polyakov of Princeton and Joseph Polchinski of the University of California, Santa Barbara, both of whom work in quantum field theory and string theory; Charles Kane of the University of Pennsylvania; Laurens Molenkamp of the University of Wuerzburg in Germany; and Shoucheng Zhang of Stanford, nominated for the theoretical prediction and experimental discovery of topological insulators.

Milner, 51, holds an advanced degree in theoretical physics from Moscow State University, but abandoned a PhD at the Russian Academy of Sciences for an MBA at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He established his FPP awards to recognize some of the greatest minds to excel in fundamental physics.