Allahabad physicist wins academics’ biggest prize

Theoretical physicist Ashoke Sen, a string theorist at Allahabad's Harish Chandra Research Institute, has become a crorepati overnight. On Tuesday, Prof. Sen became one of the nine winners of the first Yuri Milner Fundamental Physics Prize — at $ 3 million (Rs 16.7 crore) — the most lucrative academic prize in the world.  

The prize, which is nearly three times that of the Nobel purse — which is frequently shared by two or three winners — has been instituted by Yuri Milner, a Russian student of physics who dropped out of graduate school in 1989 and later made billions as an investor in companies like Facebook and Group on. It is aimed at recognizing contributions of younger researchers to fundamental physics. The nine winners of 2012 are expected to constitute the committee to decide on the awardees of next year.

Prof. Sen, who has just turned 56, confirmed that his $ 3 million prize had been credited to his account, but said it was still too early for him to decide what to do with it. The physicist whose work is seen by most as revolutionary but questioned by some, said he did not consider the award as an endorsement of his findings.

"I am certainly very happy with this, but an award does not endorse any scientific theory... I see it (the award) more as a sort of entitlement... encouragement to younger people to take interest in fundamental science," the very modest professor told The Indian Express over the phone.

"At the same time, I would like youngsters to take up science not for the glamour of an award, but for the joy and knowledge that it brings," he said.

Prof. Sen is a rare scientist who chose to return to India after post doctoral work at prestigious institutes abroad. He said he did not miss the rarefied peer group that often makes the pursuit of academics abroad enriching.

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