A Stanford University physicist has won one of the most lucrative prizes in existence -- the $3 million Fundamental Physics Prize bestowed by the foundation of Russian investor Yuri Milner.
Physics Professor Andrei Linde was one of nine physicists -- including four from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. -- named in the prize's inaugural year, and each will reap $3 million.
All winners have agreed to serve on the selection committee for future recipients, the Milner Foundation said.
Linde was recognized for his theories of cosmic inflation, which has become accepted as a leading cosmological paradigm.
Milner, 50, who studied physics in Moscow and earned an MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, is a technology investor with stakes in Facebook, Zynga and Twitter, among others.
He was 1,153rd on Forbes' March 2012 list of the world's billionaires.
Milner bought a 25,500-square-foot house on 17 acres in Los Altos Hills last year for $100 million, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Cosmic inflation -- which was proposed by another Fundamental Physics Prize winner, Alan Guth of MIT, and refined and developed by Linde -- is an example of how a theoretical concept can take decades to gain critical recognition in the scientific community, Linde said.
Inflationary theory began as a modification of conventional big bang theory. Instead of the universe beginning as a rapidly expanding fireball, according to this theory, the universe inflated extremely rapidly from a tiny piece of space and became exponentially larger in a fraction of a second while still maintaining its energy density. Following this inflation, Linde explained, the "inflation field" decayed, the universe became hot and its subsequent evolution can be described by the big bang theory.
Linde later modified the model into a concept called "new inflation" and again to "eternal chaotic inflation," both of which generated predictions that more closely matched actual observations of the sky. Simulations of fluctuations in the inflation field can explain the formation of galaxies; several experiments, set up to either verify inflation or test alternative theories, have generated data that match Linde's predictions with great accuracy.
"This doesn't prove that it is totally true," he said. "We're always kind of waiting for what the next experiment will tell us." The current next experiment comes in the form of the European Planck satellite, which will test inflation theory with much more accuracy than previous models. Linde said he is eager to see results of the ongoing Planck research, which he describes as a "beautiful experiment," and is ready if the Planck data call for further tweaks to inflation theory.