News

Stanford professor wins $3 million physics prize

Andrei Linde one of nine physicists to earn $3 million in inaugural prize from Russian investor

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.

— Palo Alto Weekly staff

Comments

Posted by Rex, a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 2, 2012 at 4:01 pm

This is just plain gross and revolting. A Stanford professor in a $100 million house the size of an office building. A three million dollar award -- which would mean a lot to many people, even divided several ways -- must be small change to him. Meanwhile, the university has laid off many employees and cut salaries. I would hope that Prof. Linde is either turning back his salary or working for $1 per year. Many faculty are not spectacularly compensated--but many are (President Hennessy) through their outside interests. It's time to take a fresh look at Stanford's fundraising efforts, when faculty and administration enjoy this level of wealth.

A perfect example of the buzz: Money ruins everything. Money has certainly changed Stanford, and, in many ways, not for the better.


Posted by Reading comprehension, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 2, 2012 at 4:21 pm

"A Stanford professor in a $100 million house the size of an office building."

Read the article again. The sponsor of the award is the one living in the $100 million house, not Professor Linde.


Posted by Palo Alto Weekly staff, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 2, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Rex,

You misread the article. It is Milner, the donor, who bought the house that is mentioned, not Professor Linde, the prize winner.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 2, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Larry Stone values that house at $50,270,000; much to the disappointment of the local school district.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 3, 2012 at 10:05 am

Congratulations, Prof. Linde! I hope that the forces of financial inflation don't affect your prize money too much (bad pun).
Very exciting work, and during our lifetime, so much knowledge has come from your field - this sure isn't my grandparents physics!

Any idea as to when the Planck research night be concluded & results available to be hopefully understood by us non-physicists? Why do you refer to it as a "beautiful experiment"?

PA Weekly staff - fwiw, I found the cost of Milner's house, etc. to detract from this article - & as you can see from the resulting comments, others hyper-focused on it. I know you're not responsible for that, but cheese-n-crackers! - Prof. Linde's accomplishment is huge & very exciting by itself. Perhaps a separate article about Mr. Milner, the Fundamental Physics Prize & his interests is in order?


Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Aug 3, 2012 at 5:58 pm

To Hmmm --thanks for writing a sane note. Kudos to Prof. Linde.

Note however that the PA Weekly staff IS indeed responsible for the sloppy writing and obfuscation in the article. They often insert unrelated tidbits into Stanford-related news items in hopes of stimulating a thread of antagonistic letters.

I'm surprised that we haven't heard any demand for Prof. Linde to share his $3million prize with the City of Palo Alto so that they can build another park.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 3, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Hi neighbor - thanks for your note! I didn't interpret what PA Online wrote as being antagonistic. Do you mean to drum up Palo Alto vs. Stanford antagonism?

I really thought they were providing background people are interested in, but it did have a jarring note, imo. As a lifelong resident of the area who has spent much time cheek by jowl w/wealth, incl extreme wealth, it doesn't impress me to know the cost or real valuation of someone's home. Who the people are inside those homes & how they live their lives can be interesting. Sure, my cynical side is curious about Mr. Milner's real background, but I don't expect to learn about w/PA Online.

This area has gotten so overly focused on money, wealth, lack of wealth (as if one should be ashamed of that), who has what toys & the toys' valuation, it's a yawn. But someone advancing & refining the theories that Dr. Linde has? His current experiment that he describes as "beautiful"? That's exciting and fascinating.

The amazing Miriam Patchen, widow of local poet Kenneth Patchen, once told me to stay curious about ideas and the natural world, even if I had no knowledge about a particular subject. One didn't need to be an expert to enjoy something, especially if one could enjoy the process of learning. I try to follow this wise advice and have found that it results in much delight.


Posted by anon, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 5, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Congratulations! This is such a poorly written article that I'm surprised the editor didn't demand it be rewritten.


Posted by Ha!, a resident of Walter Hays School
on Aug 5, 2012 at 11:00 pm

I read the headline and first sentence and skipped to the comments here. Seems I avoided some frustrating reading!

@Rex, there is no way a Stanford Professor would live in a $100 million dollar house. Thank you to other posters for clarifying. I read Rex's posting and knew right away something was amiss. Why do you think Stanford has their own housing on campus? Their physicians and professors are not paid enough to be able to afford Palo Alto housing.

My husband left medicine and went into biotech so we could afford a Palo Alto mortgage. Medicine is no longer the lucrative field that it used to be. Salaries are about the same as in the 1980's yet the cost of living has risen. This means the would-be physicians are going to choose more lucrative fields and our physician quality will decline because the competition will be less fierce.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 6, 2012 at 11:24 pm

General readership won't claim to comprehend the science, but everyone loves to follow the money, particularly prodigious amounts of it.

Good chance one of these physicists will go on to win that other prize, funded by the most prolific arms dealer of the 19th century.


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