Billionaire gives Stephen Hawking $1 million prize

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Stephen Hawking has netted a $3 million prize from a Russian billionaire who dropped out of a physics PhD to make money from social media. A similar pot is to be shared by seven scientists at CERN.

Yuri Milner is planning more Fundamental Physics Prizes to be announced next March, but in the meantime has awarded two special awards.

Hawking gets his for the discovery that black holes emit radiation, and for his ground-breaking contributions to quantum gravity and quantum aspects of the early universe.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the LHC project, and the CMS and ATLAS experiments, share a similar amount for the discovery of the new Higgs-like particle tentatively identified at CERN's Large Hadron Collider.

"It is a great honour for the LHC’s achievement to be recognised in this way," says CERN director general Rolf Heuer.

"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."

There are seven nominees for next spring's $3 million Fundamental Physics Prize. These 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.

They'll be competing with 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.

There'll be a consolation prize for the losers - $300,000 each, and automatic re-nomination for the Fundamental Physics Prize each year for the next five years.

The prizes are the biggest ever awarded for achievement in science. Hawking says he has some ideas on how to spend his. He tells the Guardian: "I will help my daughter with her autistic son, and maybe buy a holiday home, not that I take many holidays because I enjoy my work in theoretical physics."