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1 Aug, 2012 00:36

Russian Nobel: Web tycoon founds prize for the best minds in physics

The most lucrative annual prize in fundamental physics – almost three times the amount of the Nobel – has been established by Russian tycoon Yuri Milner. He announced nine initial winners, who will become the jury to select next year's winners.

The prize is given for the recent achievements of the "greatest minds working in the field of fundamental physics," Milner says. He hopes it will help young physicists who are still at the beginning or peak of their careers to make major contributions in the future. With each award worth $3 million, the monetary value outperforms the prestigious Nobel Prize, which last year stood at slightly more than $1 million. "There's no mathematical formula of how I came up with that number, but I wanted to send a message that fundamental science is important, so the sum had to be significant," Milner told The Guardian.Milner’s prize has several crucial differences from the Nobel. First of all, the candidates will be nominated online and the selection of the winners will be open, in contrast to the secretive gathering and closed voting process of the Nobel. Secondly, the new prizes can go to younger researchers, before their theoretical breakthroughs are proved experimentally.

Yuri Milner, 50, made a fortune on Internet giant Mail.ru Group and investment fund DST. He also owns minor stakes in Facebook, Twitter, Zynga and Groupon. Milner left Moscow State University in 1985 with an advanced degree in theoretical physics. He later abandoned the PhD track for an MBA at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

Furthermore, a single prize can also be given to a large group of researchers, while the Nobel can only be shared among three scientists.This year’s winners announced by Milner will share a total prize of $27 million. They will also form a committee that will select next year’s winners in the first quarter of 2013.Besides the nine main prizes, Milner has established an annual New Horizons in Physics prize for promising young researchers and a special prize for groundbreaking discoveries that can be awarded at any time, skipping the standard nomination process.