APS News

APS Fellows Awarded Breakthrough Prizes in Silicon Valley

LIGO Team, early-career physicists, and string theorists among 2017 recipients

December 12, 2016 | Rachel Gaal

At a Silicon Valley ceremony that shone with the glitz of Hollywood, the Breakthrough Prize organization announced its 2017 winners and celebrated its 5th anniversary. This year, three awards were presented to the physics community, and the winners included five APS fellows. The prizes totaled over $6 million just for physics-related awards, and over $25 million was awarded at the gala event on December 4. The prizes were founded by tech moguls Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, and Yuri Milner.

The 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics was awarded to APS Fellow Joseph Polchinski of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Andrew Strominger and Cumrun Vafa, both of Harvard University, for their efforts in the search for answers to the deepest questions of the universe. The winners were recognized for their work in string theory and quantum gravity.

“We computed the entropy of [a] black hole using string [theory] ideas,” explained Vafa in an interview with National Geographic. The three physicists worked together to understand the laws of quantum gravity in relation to black holes, and how they compare to the early theories laid out by Albert Einstein. "My colleagues and I have argued that the geometry of a black hole is much different than what Einstein’s theory says," Polchinski told National Geographic. "…Our hope is that it leads us to a better conceptual understanding of the beginnings of our universe." The Breakthrough Prize worth $3 million is shared between the three winners.

The New Horizons in Physics Prize, awarded to early-career physicists who have produced important findings in fundamental physics, was awarded to three groups this year: Asimina Arvanitaki (Perimeter Institute, Ontario), Peter W. Graham (Stanford University) and Surjeet Rajendran (University of California, Berkeley); Simone Giombi (Princeton University) and Xi Yin (Harvard); and Frans Pretorius (Princeton University). Frans Pretorius is a fellow of APS and was previously awarded the APS Aneesur Rahman Prize for Computational Physics for his “brilliant computational solutions” in Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Pretorius was also awarded the Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists in 2013.

In addition to the annual prizes, a special Breakthrough Prize was awarded to the leaders of the LIGO project, which announced the first direct observation of gravitational waves: Ronald Drever of the California Institute of Technology, Kip Thorne of the California Institute of Technology, and Rainer Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All three are fellows of APS.

The special prize, previously announced in May 2016, recognized the three honorees in Silicon Valley and awarded them $1 million to share. The additional LIGO team members — all 1,012 of them — will share the $2 million for their crucial contributions.

Related Information

Gray Arrow Breakthrough Prize
Gray Arrow APS Fellows

APS Journal Articles by Breakthrough Prize winners mentioned:

Dirichlet branes and Ramond-Ramond charges
Joseph Polchinski
Phys. Rev. Lett. 75, 4724 (1995)

Gauge-gravity duality and the black hole interior
Donald Marolf and Joseph Polchinski
Phys. Rev. Lett. 111, 171301 (2013)
See also the Viewpoint in Physics

Black hole attractors and the topological string
Hirosi Ooguri, Andrew Strominger, and Cumrun Vafa
Phys. Rev. D 70, 106007 (2004)

The Kerr/CFT correspondence
Monica Guica, Thomas Hartman, Wei Song, and Andrew Strominger
Phys. Rev. D 80, 124008 (2009)
See also the Viewpoint in Physics

Parity conservation in quantum chromodynamics
Cumrun Vafa and Edward Witten
Phys. Rev. Lett. 53, 535 (1984)

Astrophysical probes of unification
Asimina Arvanitaki, Savas Dimopoulos, Sergei Dubovsky, Peter W. Graham, Roni Harnik, and Surjeet Rajendran
Phys. Rev. D 79, 105022 (2009)
See also the Viewpoint in Physics

Higher spin gauge theory and the critical O(N) model
Simone Giombi and Xi Yin
Phys. Rev. D 85, 086005 (2012)

Evolution of binary black-hole spacetimes
Frans Pretorius
Phys. Rev. Lett. 95, 121101 (2005)

Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger
B. P. Abbott et al. (LIGO Scientific Collaboration and Virgo Collaboration)
Phys. Rev. Lett. 116, 061102 (2016)
See also the Viewpoint in Physics

Breakthrough Prize logo