Yuri Milner Starts His Own Nobel Prize, Begins Wiring Money to Penniless Physicists

Entrepreneur, investor... benefactor?

 Yuri Milner Starts His Own Nobel Prize, Begins Wiring Money to Penniless Physicists

Mr. Milner. (Photo: Wikipedia/Debray Riveros)

It’s a question as old as semiconductors: Once you’ve racked up a couple of billion dollars investing in the tech sector, what are you to do with all that cash? Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner–who’s made himself quite a nice little nest egg betting on companies like Facebook and Groupon–has a somewhat novel answer. The New York Times reports that he’s founded his very own Nobel Prize.

The Fundamental Physics Prize will dole out $3 million each to worthy, boundary-pushing thinkers. No experimental proof required, says Mr. Milner:

Sometimes a radical new idea “really deserves recognition right away because it expands our understanding of at least what is possible,” Mr. Milner said.

The Times says that the new prize is the academic world’s most lucrative. The Nobel Prize is $1.2 million and usually split; MacArthur Genius Grants are a mere $500,000, doled out in quarterly increments.

One of the winners, MIT professor Alan Guth, told the Times, “It knocked me off my feet.” Coming into a small fortune after a lifetime in academia will do that to you, even if you’re the kind of person who spends his days contemplating “cosmic inflation,” or the rapid post big-bang expansion in the universe. The Times adds:

The $3 million has already appeared in Dr. Guth’s bank account, one that had had a balance of $200. “Suddenly, it said, $3,000,200,” he said. “The bank charged a $12 wire transfer fee, but that was easily affordable.”

Mr. Milner’s idea isn’t entirely out of the blue, and in fact this kind of investment is very much in vogue. Look at Elon Musk betting the farm on Tesla Motors and Space X, or reread the rockets-and-immortality mission statement of Peter Thiel’s Founder’s Fund. Closer to Mr. Milner’s home territory, there’s the example of Dmitry Grishin, a.k.a. the “Russian Mark Zuckerberg,” who’s put $25 million into a new venture devoted to investing in robotics.

And lest anyone snicker at the sheer new-money swagger of Mr. Milner’s move, let’s remember that once upon a time Alfred Nobel was just the dude who invented dynamite.