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Indian-American Scientist Wins Breakthrough Foundation Prize, Also Called ‘Oscars of Science

Indian-American physicist Surjeet Rajendran is one of the recipients of this year’s Breakthrough Foundation Prizes, familiarly known as the “Oscars of Science”. The awards were given away by Breakthrough Foundation in a ceremony held at NASA Ames Research Centre in Mountain View, California.

Surjeet Rajendran won the award for pioneering a wide range of new experimental probes of fundamental physics.


Photo Source: UC Berkeley

A young assistant professor of physics at UC Berkeley, Rajendran shared the $100,000 prize with Asimina Arvanitaki (Perimeter Institute, Ontario), and Peter W. Graham (Stanford University). He is one of the ten “early career” researchers consisting of scientists and mathematicians, chosen for the 2017 New Horizons Prize worth $600,000. “Science is terrific – without it, I would not be humble,” he said in his acceptance remarks.

Rajendran has broad interests in theoretical physics with a strong focus on physics beyond the standard model. His website states that he is “interested in inventing new experimental avenues to help answer these questions and discover new physics[…]While the standard model of particle physics has repeatedly withstood many experimental tests, it leaves many questions unanswered.”

He, along with David Kaplan and Peter Graham, published a paper in 2015 hypothesising the hierarchy between gravity and the fundamental forces at the time of explosive birth of the cosmos.


Photo Source: UC Berkeley

Following his graduation from Caltech in 2004, Surjeet Rajendran went on to complete his PhD in Physics from Stanford University in 2009. He was also the Madansky postdoctoral fellow at John Hopkins University and is currently the Henry Shenker Professor of Physics at UC-Berkeley.

The Breakthrough Foundation founded by Sergey Brin of Google; Anne Wojcicki of 23andMe; Jack Ma of Alibaba and his wife, Cathy Zhang; Yuri Milner, an internet entrepreneur, and his wife, Julia Milner; and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and his wife, Priscilla Chan. It was Yuri Milner’s decision to recognise and acknowledge nine physicists in 2012 for their work and to pay them like a rockstar because they deserved it. The categories were then broadened to include life sciences and mathematics. Each year’s winners are selected by a panel comprising the previous winners.

Rajendran is the fifth Indian-origin scientist to win this prestigious award since its inception in 2012. Previous winners are Saurabh Jha (2015), Shiraz Naval Minwalla (2014) Tejinder Singh Virdee (2013), and Ashoke Sen (2012).

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