A new annual prize called The Fundamental Physics Prize has been instituted by Russian internet mogul Yuri Milner and it’s prize money of $3 million each, more than doubles the Nobel Prize which is currently $1.2 million, which is usually shared by 2-3 people. Mr Milner personally selected this year’s winners but winners from next year onwards will be selected by the previous year’s winners. The prize was awarded to 9 people this year and for a change an Indian in India was one of the recipients.
Ashoke Sen, attached to the Harish-Chandra institute in Allahabad, was awarded the prize for ‘uncovering striking evidence of strong-weak duality in certain supersymmetric string theories and gauge theories’. According to The Hindu, he expects to issue smaller versions of the prize to student researchers later.
Tellingly, in an interview with TOI, he says that theoretical physics does not require any special infrastructure – just a computer with a fast internet connection. More can be read about the other winners here.
While looking at innovation systems, the prize system is the other prominent one besides the patent system. The patent system however, rarely rewards basic research per se, though of course there is indirect incentivization through commercialization of follow on products/processes. This indirect incentivization has ensured that private industry funds more than half of the basic research that is carried out in the world, but the flipside is that it’s often directed towards a profit motive, naturally. For what it’s worth, and certainly quite believably, the wiki page on Funding of Science says that research papers are sometimes allowed to be altered by funding sources before publication.
The more vague concept of knowledge for the sake of knowledge is understandably not quite as successful as a funding requirement and that’s precisely why prizes which do value and reward research in fundamental research are always welcome.