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.