Alexei Kitaev is a professor of theoretical physics, computer science and mathematics at Caltech. His work is in developing algorithms and theories to enable quantum computing. He recently received the same surprising phone call that eight other scientists around the world have gotten. He's in the first class to win Fundamental Physics Prize, created by Russian entrepreneur and venture capitalist Yuri Milner with "the aim of providing the recipients with more freedom and opportunity to pursue even greater future accomplishments."
Get this — it comes with a $3 million prize for each honored researcher. That makes it easily the largest academic prize given to an individual in the history of science, Caltech says.
"It was a great surprise and honor to learn that I was a recipient of the prize along with some very famous and renowned physicists," says Kitaev on the Caltech website. "At first, I was confused because I didn't think that the money could be just for me—I assumed such a big prize would be shared among all the recipients. I feel very happy and extremely lucky."
Today on Marketplace, host Kai Ryssdal talked to another winner, MIT physics professor Alan Guth, about what it's like to get that kind of phone call. Sample:
Ryssdal: First of all, I suppose congratulations are in order, right?
Guth: I guess so. Thanks a lot.
Ryssdal: How did you find out about this award?
Guth: I found out about it initially by telephone call from one of the other winners. They realized that if Yuri Milner called me up with his Russian accent and told me he'd give me $3 million if I gave him my bank account number, I'd probably hang up. I was flabbergasted.
Ryssdal: How did you get this money? Did they really just wire it into your account?
Guth: That's right, they just wired it into my account. So one day I logged in and suddenly it was $3 million-plus.
Ryssdal: We should all have such problems, huh?
Guth: That's right, that's right. The bank charged a $12 wire fee, but I decided that was OK.
Ryssdal: You're OK with that?
Guth: Under the circumstances.
Caltech photo of Kitaev