Science magazine seemed to imply there was some grousing about the new Fundamental Physics Prizes awarded by billionaire Yuri Milner, but we in Rehovot think it’s a good thing. While one can quibble about which fields are still underfunded, we believe that any support for truly basic research — the kind whose applications, if they exist, will be decades in the future, but which enlightens today us about the universe we live in – is most welcome.
It turns out that two (at least) of the nine winners have ties to the Weizmann Institute, and, completely by chance, we had recently written about them. The first is Nati Seiberg at the Institute for Advanced Studies. Seiberg received his Ph.D. from Weizmann, and he was a member of the Weizmann Physics faculty for several years before being invited to work in the IAP. The connection did not end there, however, and a number of current Weizmann physicists are his former students and postdocs. Seiberg, by the way, is a great believer in public outreach. “Even though the subject is complex, I find it important that people who support this research understand what it is they are supporting,” he told us in an interview. (The article appeared in our print magazine, and will soon appear in Hebrew online.)
Alexei Kitaev was a visiting scientist at Weizmann. Kitaev is known for proposing the possibility of quantum topological computing. Several members of the Weizmann Physics Faculty have been instrumental in advancing both the theory and the experimental technology that may, one day, be used to build this type of quantum computer. Among other things, they made important contributions to the recent “Majorana particle” discovery. (Watch our website in September for the article.)
The common thread is that both of these scientists are at the center of a sort of ripple effect. We have benefited quite a bit from those ripples in training, as well as in exchange of ideas. Can you put a price on these things? Will these generous awards help create bigger, broader ripples? We hope that it will.