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Five physicists make the shortlist for $3-million award

Five theoretical physicists are in the running for the field’s most lucrative prize.

The winners of the 2014 Physics Frontiers Prize, who become nominees for the $3 million 2014 Fundamental Physics Prize, were announced on 5 November.

Michael B. Green of the University of Cambridge, John H. Schwarz of the California Institute of Technology, Andrew Strominger and Cumrun Vafa, both of Harvard University, and Joseph Polchinski, from the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara were nominated.

If they fail to pick up the big prize, each will receive an award of $300,000 and automatically be re-nominated for the next five years.

Launched last year by Russian billionaire entrepreneur and former physicist Yuri Milner through the Fundamental Physics Prize Foundation, the awards are designed to provide recipients with more freedom and opportunity to pursue future accomplishments.

The foundation has already made millionaires of 11 physicists (plus handing a hefty cheque to seven CERN physicists who split a twelfth prize), and it has begun to do the same in biology.

But the prize is not without its critics who question whether their efforts to create “science superheroes” are the best way to drive the field.

Junior researchers can pick up the foundation’s $100,0000 New Horizon in Physics prize, which was yesterday awarded to Freddy Cachazo from the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario, Shiraz Naval Minwalla, of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai and Vyacheslav Rychkov, based at CERN.

The winners of the 2014 Fundamental Physics Prize — whose value is more than double that of the 8 million Swedish krona Nobel Prize ($1.2 million) — will be announced at a no-doubt lavish ceremony in San Francisco on 12 December 2013.

Under the foundation’s rules, prize winners become judges, meaning this year’s selection panel includes CERN physicists Fabiola Gianotti and Lyn Evans, as well as famous names Stephen Hawking and Edward Witten.

Also announced will be five winners of the 2014 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences — $3 million awards funded by the foundation alongside entrepreneurs including Google co-founder Sergey Brin, 23andMe co-founder Anne Wojcicki and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

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