Buchalter Cosmology Prize

Ari Buchalter is one of the many people who has successfully made the transition from graduate student and researcher in physics (Columbia PhD, Caltech postdoc) to the business world, where he is currently the CEO of MediaMath. But he never lost his interest in theoretical cosmology, which is completely appropriate — how our universe works is something everyone should be interested in, no matter what their day job might be.

In order to promote innovative thinking in cosmology (experimental as well as theoretical), Ari has founded the Buchalter Cosmology Prize, which was just announced at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society. It will be an annual award, given to the best cosmology papers to have appeared on the arxiv, as decided by a panel of esteemed judges. (I’m one of the esteemed judges, which is a mixed blessing — should be a lot of fun, but it means I can’t win.) Any PhD or current graduate student in physics or astronomy is eligible to submit papers for consideration; this year’s deadline is 30 September. The winner will walk away with $10,000, and even third place will bag you $2,500.

Currently, cosmology is in a situation where the dominant theoretical framework (Big Bang, Hubble expansion, dark energy and dark matter, possibly primordial inflation) is pretty darn good at fitting the data, but nevertheless has some worrisome conceptual issues. (Was there really inflation? Is there a multiverse? Is the dark energy a cosmological constant, and is the dark matter a WIMP? Why is the vacuum energy so small? Etc.) Hopefully a prize like this will help spur people to be just a tiny bit more bold and imaginative in tackling these issues than they would otherwise be.

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8 Responses to Buchalter Cosmology Prize

  1. Simon says:

    There seem to be a few prizes in cosmology (Kalvi, Buchalter, Gruber) in additional to the possibility of other scientific prizes (Nobel, society honours like AAAS, AAS, RAS, …). I wonder which fields have the highest ratio of prizes to active researchers…? (Or prize money/researcher.)

  2. Berol Robinson says:

    I’m not a cosmologist, but I find a significant omission in the list of questions: What happened before the Big Bang? (or is that subsumed in the concept of multiverse?)

  3. I don’t know the details of all the science prizes by any means, but it recently occurred to me that every one of them that I know anything about derives its value from the recipient being chosen by judges. The same thing is true of the annual MacArthur Foundation fellowship grants. The contrasting case is some of the entertainment awards. Having seen a documentary about the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, I see no reason even to name the awards it gives every year (which were last night, as some may know); the voters seem to me bozos. There may be better reason to respect the AMPAS awards—the Oscars—which are chosen by a jury of peers. But to select a single person or film as the best of a year’s work is always arguable. In that sense, I don’t even fully like the Buchalter prize structure, with a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. I must be too much of a rationalist, but naming three winners for excellence or valuable contributions or the like makes more sense than deciding that one paper is “the best.” Still, I welcome these.

  4. John says:

    Are you really debating WLC?@ this will rock. You will kick his ass! I know you will because you are fast and smart and super intelligent!

  5. “There seem to be a few prizes in cosmology (Kalvi, Buchalter, Gruber)”


    But also Shaw, Crafoord, this new rich Russian guy with the 3-million-dollar prize money or whatever. By the way, Run Run Shaw recently died at 2013. Some might find the choice between a long life and excessive wealth difficult, but he had both.

  6. “Submissions will only be considered from individuals who currently hold a PhD in Physics, Astrophysics, Astronomy, or a closely-related field, or are currently in an accredited graduate program pursuing a PhD degree in these fields.”

    This seems like an unnecessary restriction. OK, if someone wants to promote mainstream conformity, it would be a necessary restriction, but for someone who is funding a prize for interesting and innovative new work to go beyond the current paradigm or whatever, it seems rather hidebound. Surely requiring the submission to go through arXiv is enough to filter out crackpots (I can’t think of any other reason for this restriction). (It is not true that “anyone” can post to arXiv. In many cases, they are more restrictive than even well respected refereed journals.)

  7. Navneeth says:

    And what if the subtleties of a paper are not realised by the panel of judges within the deadline? Does the paper retro-actively get the awarded joint first prize with the original winner or something? Something disturbs me about the dead-line in this context, somehow.

    (No offence intended towards any of the judges. It’s not something new in science for the usefulness of an idea to be realised only later.)

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