Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics

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Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics
Awarded forTransformative advances in fundamental physics
Presented byFundamental Physics Prize Foundation
First awarded2012
WebsiteOfficial Website

The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics[1] is awarded by the Fundamental Physics Prize Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to awarding physicists involved in fundamental research. The foundation was founded in July 2012 by Russian physicist and internet entrepreneur Yuri Milner.[2]

As of September 2018, this prize is the most lucrative academic prize in the world[3] and is more than twice the amount given to the Nobel Prize awardees.[4][5] This prize is also dubbed by the media as the "XXI Century Nobel".[6]

Nominations and awards money[edit]

As of September 2018, anyone can nominate a candidate through the Fundamental Physics Prize website.[2] As of September 2018, each award is worth $3 million. The monetary value exceeds that of the prestigious Nobel Prize, which in 2012 stood at slightly more than $1.2 million.[4][6]

Physics Frontiers Prize laureates (those on the shortlist for the Fundamental Physics Prize) who do not go on to be awarded the Fundamental Physics Prize each receive (as of 2013) $300,000 and are automatically re-nominated for the Fundamental Physics Prize each year for the next 5 years.[2]

Special Breakthrough Prize[edit]

Unlike the annual Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, the Special Prize is not limited to recent discoveries. As of 2020 the Special Prize, which "can be awarded at any time in recognition of an extraordinary scientific achievement", has been awarded on 5 occasions (twice in 2013, and once in 2016, 2018 and 2019). The monetary value of the award is also $3 million.[7]


The following is a listing of the laureates, by year (including Special Prize winners).

Year of award Fundamental Physics
Prize laureates[2]
Awarded for[2] Alma mater Institutional affiliation when prize awarded[2]
2012 Nima Arkani-Hamed Original approaches to outstanding problems in particle physics University of Toronto,
University of California, Berkeley
Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
Alan Guth Invention of inflationary cosmology, and for contributions to the theory for the generation of cosmological density fluctuations arising from quantum fluctuations Massachusetts Institute of Technology Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
Alexei Kitaev For robust quantum memories and fault-tolerant quantum computation using topological quantum phases with anyons and unpaired Majorana modes; topological quantum computing. Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA Currently at KITP and UCSB, Santa Barbara
Maxim Kontsevich Numerous contributions including development of homological mirror symmetry, and the study of wall-crossing phenomena. University of Bonn
Moscow State University
Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques, Bures-sur-Yvette
Andrei Linde[8] For development of inflationary cosmology, including the theory of new inflation, eternal chaotic inflation and the theory of inflationary multiverse, and for contributing to the development of vacuum stabilization mechanisms in string theory. Moscow State University Stanford University, Stanford
Juan Maldacena Contributions to gauge/gravity duality, relating gravitational physics in a spacetime and quantum field theory on the boundary of the spacetime Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, Instituto Balseiro, Princeton University Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
Nathan Seiberg Contributions to our understanding of quantum field theory and string theory. Weizmann Institute of Science, Tel-Aviv University Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
Ashoke Sen Opening the path to the realization that all string theories are different limits of the same underlying theory. Presidency College, Kolkata
University of Calcutta
IIT Kanpur
Stony Brook University
Harish-Chandra Research Institute, Allahabad
Edward Witten For applications of topology to physics, non-perturbative duality symmetries, models of particle physics derived from string theory, dark matter detection, and the twistor-string approach to particle scattering amplitudes, as well as numerous applications of quantum field theory to mathematics. Brandeis University (B.A.) University of Wisconsin, Madison
Princeton University (PhD)
Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
2013 (special) Stephen Hawking For his discovery of Hawking radiation from black holes, and his deep contributions to quantum gravity and quantum aspects of the early universe.[9]
Peter Jenni, Fabiola Gianotti (ATLAS), Michel Della Negra, Tejinder Singh Virdee, Guido Tonelli, Joe Incandela (CMS) and Lyn Evans (LHC) For their leadership role in the scientific endeavour that led to the discovery of the new Higgs-like particle by the ATLAS and CMS collaborations at CERN's Large Hadron Collider.[9]
2013 Alexander Polyakov For his many discoveries in field theory and string theory including the conformal bootstrap, magnetic monopoles, instantons, confinement/de-confinement, the quantization of strings in non-critical dimensions, gauge/string duality and many others. His ideas have dominated the scene in these fields during the past decades. Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology Princeton University, Princeton
2014 Michael Green, John Henry Schwarz For opening new perspectives on quantum gravity and the unification of forces. Harvard University, University of California, Berkeley; and
Cambridge University, Cambridge, UK
California Institute of Technology and Cambridge University, Cambridge, UK
2015 Saul Perlmutter and members of the Supernova Cosmology Project;
Brian P. Schmidt, Adam Riess and members of the High-Z Supernova Team.
For the most unexpected discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, rather than slowing as had been long assumed. Harvard, UC Berkeley (Perlmutter), University of Arizona, Harvard (Schmidt), and MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley (Riess) University of California, Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Australian National University;Johns Hopkins University and Space Telescope Science Institute
2016 Yifang Wang;
Kam-Biu Luk and the Daya Bay Team
For the fundamental discovery and exploration of neutrino oscillations, revealing a new frontier beyond, and possibly far beyond, the standard model of particle physics. Nanjing University (Wang)

University of Hong Kong, Rutgers University (Luk)

Chinese Academy of Sciences, University of California, Berkeley
Atsuto Suzuki and the KamLAND Team Iwate Prefectural University, Japan
Kōichirō Nishikawa and the K2K / T2K Team High Energy Accelerator Research Organization, Japan
Arthur B. McDonald and the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory Team Dalhousie University, California Institute of Technology Queen's University, Canada
Takaaki Kajita;
Yōichirō Suzuki and the Super-Kamiokande Team
Saitama University, University of Tokyo (Kajita) Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe, University of Tokyo, Japan
2016 (special) Ronald Drever, Kip Thorne, Rainer Weiss For the observation of gravitational waves, opening new horizons in astronomy and physics.[10]
Сontributors who are authors of the paper Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger (Physical Review Letters, 11 February 2016) and contributors who also made important contributions to the success of LIGO.
2017 Joseph Polchinski For transformative advances in quantum field theory, string theory, and quantum gravity.[11] University of California, Berkeley University of California, Santa Barbara
Andrew Strominger, Cumrun Vafa Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Princeton University Harvard University
2018 Charles L. Bennett For detailed maps of the early universe that greatly improved our knowledge of the evolution of the cosmos and the fluctuations that seeded the formation of galaxies.[12] Johns Hopkins University
Gary Hinshaw University of British Columbia
Norman Jarosik,

Lyman Page Jr.,

David N. Spergel and the WMAP Science Team (Chris Barnes, Olivier Doré, Joanna Dunkley, Ben Gold, Michael Greason, Mark Halpern, Robert Hill, Al Kogut, Eiichiro Komatsu, David Larson, Michele Limon, Stephan Meyer, Michael Nolta, Nils Odegard, Hiranya Peiris, Kendrick Smith, Greg Tucker, Licia Verde, Janet Weiland, Ed Wollack, E. Wollack, Ned Wright)[13]

Princeton University
2018 (special) Jocelyn Bell Burnell For fundamental contributions to the discovery of pulsars, and a lifetime of inspiring leadership in the scientific community.[7] University of Glasgow (BSc)
University of Cambridge (PhD)
University of Oxford and University of Dundee
2019 Charles Kane, Eugene Mele For new ideas about topology and symmetry in physics, leading to the prediction of a new class of materials that conduct electricity only on their surface.[14] University of Pennsylvania
2019 (special) Sergio Ferrara For the invention of supergravity, in which quantum variables are part of the description of the geometry of spacetime.[15] CERN, UCLA
Daniel Z. Freedman Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University
Peter van Nieuwenhuizen Stony Brook University
2020 The Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration For the first image of a supermassive black hole, taken by means of an Earth-sized alliance of telescopes.[16] The EHT Collaboration consists of 13 stakeholder institutes:
2021 Eric Adelberger For precision fundamental measurements that test our understanding of gravity, probe the nature of dark energy, and establish limits on couplings to dark matter.[17] University of Washington
Jens H. Gundlach University of Washington
Blayne Heckel University of Washington
2021 (special) Steven Weinberg For his continuous leadership in fundamental physics, with broad impact across particle physics, gravity and cosmology, and for communicating science to a wider audience.[18] University of Texas at Austin

New Horizons in Physics Prize[edit]

The New Horizons in Physics Prize, awarded to promising junior researchers, carries an award of $100,000.[19]

Year of award New Horizons in Physics
Prize laureates
Awarded for Institutional affiliation when prize awarded
2013 Niklas Beisert Development of powerful exact methods to describe a quantum gauge theory and its associated string theory ETH Zurich
Davide Gaiotto Far-reaching new insights about duality, gauge theory, and geometry, and specially for his work linking theories in different dimensions in most unexpected ways Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
Zohar Komargodski[20] Dynamics of four-dimensional field theories and in particular his proof (with Schwimmer) of the “a-theorem”, which has solved a long-standing problem Weizmann Institute of Science
2014 Freddy Cachazo Uncovering numerous structures underlying scattering amplitudes in gauge theories and gravity Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
Shiraz Minwalla Pioneering contributions to the study of string theory and quantum field theory; and in particular his work on the connection between the equations of fluid dynamics and Albert Einstein's equations of general relativity Tata Institute of Fundamental Research
Slava Rychkov [de] Developing new techniques in conformal field theory, reviving the conformal bootstrap program for constraining the spectrum of operators and the structure constants in 3D and 4D CFT's Pierre-and-Marie-Curie University
2015 Sean Hartnoll For applying holographic methods to obtain remarkable new insights into strongly interacting quantum matter. Stanford University
Philip C. Schuster and Natalia Toro For pioneering the “simplified models” framework for new physics searches at the Large Hadron Collider, as well as spearheading new experimental searches for dark sectors using high-intensity electron beams. Perimeter Institute
Horacio Casini For fundamental ideas about entropy in quantum field theory and quantum gravity. CONICET
Marina Huerta Universidad Nacional de Cuyo
Shinsei Ryu University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Tadashi Takayanagi Kyoto University
2016 B. Andrei Bernevig For outstanding contributions to condensed matter physics, especially involving the use of topology to understand new states of matter. Princeton University
Xiao-Liang Qi Stanford University
Raphael Flauger For outstanding contributions to theoretical cosmology. The University of Texas at Austin
Leonardo Senatore Stanford University
Liang Fu For outstanding contributions to condensed matter physics, especially involving the use of topology to understand new states of matter. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Yuji Tachikawa For penetrating and incisive studies of supersymmetric quantum field theories. University of Tokyo
2017 Frans Pretorius For creating the first computer code capable of simulating the inspiral and merger of binary black holes, thereby laying crucial foundations for interpreting the recent observations of gravitational waves; and for opening new directions in numerical relativity. Princeton University
Simone Giombi For imaginative joint work on higher spin gravity and its holographic connection to a new soluble field theory. Princeton University
Xi Yin Harvard University
Asimina Arvanitaki For pioneering a wide range of new experimental probes of fundamental physics. Perimeter Institute
Peter W. Graham Stanford University
Surjeet Rajendran University of California, Berkeley
2018 Christopher Hirata For fundamental contributions to understanding the physics of early galaxy formation and to sharpening and applying the most powerful tools of precision cosmology Ohio State University
Douglas Stanford For profound new insights on quantum chaos and its relation to gravity. Institute for Advanced Study and Stanford University
Andrea Young For the co-invention of van der Waals heterostructures, and for the new quantum Hall phases that he discovered with them. University of California, Santa Barbara
2019 Rana Adhikari For research on present and future ground-based detectors of gravitational waves. California Institute of Technology
Lisa Barsotti and Matthew Evans Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Daniel Harlow For fundamental insights about quantum information, quantum field theory, and gravity. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Daniel L. Jafferis Harvard University
Aron Wall Stanford University
Brian Metzger For pioneering predictions of the electromagnetic signal from a neutron star merger, and for leadership in the emerging field of multi-messenger astronomy. Columbia University
2020 Xie Chen For incisive contributions to the understanding of topological states of matter and the relationships between them. California Institute of Technology
Lukasz Fidkowski University of Washington
Michael Levin University of Chicago
Max A. Metlitski Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Jo Dunkley For the development of novel techniques to extract fundamental physics from astronomical data. Princeton University
Samaya Nissanke University of Amsterdam
Kendrick Smith Perimeter Institute
Simon Caron-Huot For profound contributions to the understanding of quantum field theory. McGill University
Pedro Vieira Perimeter Institute and ICTP-SAIFR
2021 Tracy Slatyer For major contributions to particle astrophysics, from models of dark matter to the discovery of the “Fermi Bubbles.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Rouven Essig For advances in the detection of sub-GeV dark matter especially in regards to the SENSEI experiment. Stony Brook University
Javier Tiffenberg Fermilab
Tomer Volansky Tel Aviv University
Tien-Tien Yu University of Oregon
Ahmed Almheiri For calculating the quantum information content of a black hole and its radiation. Institute for Advanced Study
Netta Engelhardt Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Henry Maxfield University of California, Santa Barbara
Geoff Penington University of California, Berkeley


Charles L. Kane holding the Fundamental Physics Prize trophy

The Fundamental Physics Prize trophy, a work of art created by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson,[21] is a silver sphere with a coiled vortex inside. The form is a toroid, or doughnut shape, resulting from two sets of intertwining three-dimensional spirals. Found in nature, these spirals are seen in animal horns, nautilus shells, whirlpools, and even galaxies and black holes.[22]


The name of the 2013 prize winner was unveiled at the culmination of a ceremony which took place on the evening of March 20, 2013 at the Geneva International Conference Centre.[23] The ceremony was hosted by Hollywood actor and science enthusiast Morgan Freeman.[24] The evening honored the 2013 laureates − 16 outstanding scientists including Stephen Hawking[25] and CERN scientists who led the decades-long effort to discover the Higgs-like particle at the Large Hadron Collider.[26] Sarah Brightman and Russian pianist Denis Matsuev performed for the guests of the ceremony.


Some have expressed reservations about such new science mega-prizes.[27]

What's not to like? Quite a lot, according to a handful of scientists... You cannot buy class, as the old saying goes, and these upstart entrepreneurs cannot buy their prizes the prestige of the Nobels. The new awards are an exercise in self-promotion for those behind them, say scientists. They could distort the meritocracy of peer-review-led research. They could cement the status quo of peer-reviewed research. They do not fund peer-reviewed research. They perpetuate the myth of the lone genius.... As much as some scientists may grumble about the new awards, the financial doping that they bring to research and the wisdom of the goals behind them, two things seem clear. First, most researchers would accept such a prize if they were offered one. Second, it is surely a good thing that the money and attention come to science rather than go elsewhere. It is fair to criticize and question the mechanism—that is the culture of research, after all—but it is the prize-givers' money to do with as they please. It is wise to accept such gifts with gratitude and grace.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Breakthrough Prize – Fundamental Physics Breakthrough Prize – Prizes". Retrieved 2018-09-10.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Fundamental Physics Prize - About". Fundamental Physics Prize. Archived from the original on 5 November 2012. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  3. ^ Ghosh, Pallab (2018-09-06). "Bell Burnell: Physics star gives away £2.3m prize". BBC News.
  4. ^ a b "9 Scientists Receive a New Physics Prize". The New York Times. 31 July 2012. Retrieved 2012-08-04.
  5. ^ New Russian physics prize three times bigger than Nobel, The Voice of Russia
  6. ^ a b "Winners of life science prize revealed". Financial Times.
  7. ^ a b "Breakthrough Prize – Special Breakthrough Prize In Fundamental Physics Awarded To Jocelyn Bell Burnell For Discovery Of Pulsars". Retrieved 2018-09-09.
  8. ^ "Fundamental Physics Prize - Andrei Linde acceptance speech". Archived from the original on March 19, 2014. Retrieved April 17, 2013.
  9. ^ a b "Fundamental Physics Prize - News". Fundamental Physics Prize. Archived from the original on 14 December 2012. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  10. ^ "Fundamental Physics Prize - News". Fundamental Physics Prize (2016). Retrieved 4 May 2016.
  11. ^ "Breakthrough Prize – Laureates".
  12. ^ "Breakthrough Prize – Laureates".
  13. ^ "Congratulations to Charles Bennett, Gary Hinshaw, Norman Jarosik, Lyman Page Jr., David Spergel and the WMAP Science Team for winning the 2018 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics". NASA. 3 December 2017. Retrieved 8 December 2017.
  14. ^ Laureates 2019
  15. ^ "Breakthrough Prize – $3 Million Special Breakthrough Prize In Fundamental Physics Awarded To Discoverers Of Supergravity". Retrieved 2019-08-06.
  16. ^ Laureates 2020
  17. ^ Breakthrough Prize In Fundamental Physics 2021
  18. ^ Special Breakthrough Prize In Fundamental Physics 2021
  19. ^ "Fundamental Physics Prize News". Archived from the original on 2012-12-14.
  20. ^ Rinat, Zafrir (2012-12-12). "Israeli Wins Prestigious International Physics Prize". Haaretz.
  21. ^ "Fundamental Physics Prize - Olafur Eliasson speech". Archived from the original on May 31, 2014. Retrieved April 17, 2013.
  22. ^ The Breakthrough Prize trophy.
  23. ^ Press Release Archived 2013-04-24 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ "Fundamental Physics Prize Ceremony 2013 - Part 1". Archived from the original on July 27, 2013. Retrieved April 17, 2013.
  25. ^ YouTube.
  26. ^ "Fundamental Physics Prize Ceremony 2013 - Part 2". Archived from the original on May 27, 2014. Retrieved April 17, 2013.
  27. ^ Zeeya Merali (12 June 2013). "Science prizes: The new Nobels". Nature. 498 (7453): 152–154. Bibcode:2013Natur.498..152M. doi:10.1038/498152a. PMID 23765473.
  28. ^ Editorial (12 June 2013). "Young upstarts". Nature. 498 (7453): 138. doi:10.1038/498138a. PMID 23776948.
  29. ^ "$3 Million Prizes Will Go to Mathematicians, Too", The New York Times

External links[edit]