The important thing is not to stop questioning.
– Albert Einstein
The Buchalter Cosmology Prize is an annual prize that seeks to stimulate ground-breaking theoretical, observational, or experimental work in cosmology that has the potential to produce a breakthrough advance in our understanding. It was created to support the development of new theories, observations, or methods, that can help illuminate the puzzle of cosmic expansion from first principles.
The winners of the 2023 Buchalter Cosmology Prize have been announced!
Submissions for the 2024 Buchalter Cosmology Prize will be accepted from October 1st, 2023 through September 30th, 2024. The prize amounts will be as follows:
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.
– Albert Einstein
Cosmology seeks to answer perhaps the most fundamental questions science can ask, such as:
As such, the study of cosmology not only reveals basic truths that further our understanding of physics, but occupies a unique and singular status in the quest for human knowledge in general. In recent decades, cosmology has undergone something of a scientific renaissance, as technological advances have generated unprecedented quantity and quality of observational data, in turn attracting a wave of new minds to interpret and explain it.
The Standard Big Bang model has done a remarkable job in explaining many fundamental observations, such as the microwave background (CMB) radiation, the Hubble expansion, primordial element abundances, and more. However many other, seemingly fundamental, observations are not immediately explained by the model. A few examples include dark matter (introduced to explain large-scale dynamics), inflation (introduced to explain the so-called Horizon Problem), and dark energy (re-introduced to explain the apparent cosmic acceleration).
These examples share a common issue: they explain a phenomenon that is not understood in the context of an existing theory, by introducing a new idea or mechanism which itself is not understood and which has no physical motivation to exist, other than to explain the original phenomenon. In effect, there is a one-to-one trading of ignorance, so to speak. If the aim of science is to reduce the number of unknowns, to explain a multitude of phenomena from a parsimony of ideas, to create understanding from first principles, then these ideas would seem to fall short on those measures. If we expect the progress of science to follow Occam’s Razor, then we should be skeptical of any theory engineered to explain an unknown by introducing an effectively equal number of new unknowns, and we should continue to drive towards a true understanding from first principles.
The Buchalter Cosmology Prize was conceived on the premise that there are still fundamental gaps in our understanding of cosmology and that currently-accepted paradigms such as inflation and dark energy are incomplete, and possibly even incorrect descriptions of our Universe. It was therefore created to support the development of new ideas or discoveries that have the potential to produce a breakthrough advance beyond our present understanding of the standard cosmological model and currently-accepted paradigms such as inflation and dark energy. The mission of the prize is to stimulate ground-breaking theoretical, observational, or experimental work, specifically around theories, observations, or methods, that challenge, extend, or illuminate current cosmological models and/or help explain the cosmic expansion from first principles. The ultimate goal is to help spur the formulation of a broader cosmological theory that explains current observations, puts forth testable new predictions, and fundamentally advances our understanding of physics.
The Buchalter Cosmology Prize was instituted by Dr. Ari Buchalter. From a young age, Dr. Buchalter was drawn to science. Though not scientists themselves, his working-class grandparents and parents instilled in him a deep awe and admiration for science as the noblest of human pursuits, and in particular for astronomy & astrophysics, which seemed to explore the biggest mysteries of all. This influence, coupled with exposure to the inspiring popular works of Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, and other ambassadors of science from the 1970s and 1980s, set him on the path to pursue astrophysics in his education and his early career.
Dr. Buchalter received a BS in Physics from Stanford University in 1993, a PhD in Astronomy from Columbia University in 1999 for work in theoretical astrophysics, and pursued postdoctoral research at Caltech from 1999 to 2001, where he held the Lee A. DuBridge Prize Postdoctoral Fellowship in Astrophysics. As a graduate student and postdoc, he published over a dozen papers on theoretical astrophysics in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, on topics including large-scale structure formation, galaxy formation and evolution, gravitational lensing, tests of the cosmic expansion, and the cosmic microwave background radiation. In a 2004 in a paper entitled “On the time variation of c, G, and h and the dynamics of the cosmic expansion” Dr. Buchalter put forth a theory which appears to explain a broad range of cosmological observations without the need for either inflation or dark energy, and which became the inspiration for encouraging others to pursue innovative and paradigm-challenging ideas through the creation of The Buchalter Cosmology Prize.
While at Caltech, Dr. Buchalter was intrigued by the application of mathematical methods to the pricing of financial securities and founded and managed a small hedge fund focused on quantitative trading of equity & index derivatives. With a growing interest in the business world, Dr. Buchalter decided to leave academia in 2001 and joined the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, where he became an Associate Principal in the Media Practice. During his time at McKinsey, he found that quantitative methodologies from science could be applied in unique and powerful ways in the business world. This was particularly true in the data-intensive area of marketing, where an explosion of “big data” combined with techniques such as predictive modeling, cluster analysis, and optimization was having a transformative effect, especially in the then-emerging realm of digital media. In 2005, Dr. Buchalter joined Rosetta Marketing, a marketing consulting & services company focused on using advanced analytics and data-driven insights to inform business strategy, improve product development, and optimize marketing programs. As a Senior Partner, he led Rosetta’s Digital Media & Technology practice, working with leading companies in the Telecom, Media, and Technology sectors. From 2008 to 2017, Dr. Buchalter served as Chief Operating Officer and President of MediaMath, a leading global advertising technology company, where he led the development of MediaMath’s media trading and data management platform, proprietary machine-learning algorithms, and core business processes. From 2017 to 2021, Dr. Buchalter was CEO Intersection, a leading smart cities technology and media company, focused on transforming the urban experience by connecting the digital and physical worlds. He currently serves as CEO of Place Exchange, a technology platform enabling automated execution for digital Out of Home advertising.
Dr. Buchalter serves on the boards of several technology companies, and is a frequent speaker and author on the topics of digital media, marketing strategy, and the application of quantitative techniques to solve business challenges. Seeing the power of innovative thinking and unconventional solutions in the business world, Dr. Buchalter created The Buchalter Cosmology Prize to encourage and recognize ideas in cosmology that have the potential to fundamentally advance our thinking.
We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.
– Isaac Newton
During his days as a graduate student and postdoc in astrophysics, Dr. Buchalter often struggled with commonly-accepted paradigms in cosmology, such as inflation and dark energy, which seemed to explain a phenomenon that was not understood by introducing a new idea or mechanism which itself was not understood – and which had no physical motivation to exist, other than to explain the original phenomenon. Dr. Buchalter believed that “new theories should not merely replace one ignorance with another.” However, as a young scientist planning to build a career in astrophysics research, he was reluctant to challenge these canonical concepts in his research.
In 2004, three years after leaving science as a profession, Dr. Buchalter decided to revisit this line of thought. He noted another area where there appeared to be “placeholders for ignorance” in physics – namely, in the so-called physical constants. While some constants, such as the Rydberg, have historically been revealed to be comprised of other more fundamental quantities, other constants such as the speed of light (c), the gravitational constant (G), and Planck's constant (h), are of seemingly primary significance. Though ubiquitous throughout physics over decades or centuries, the underlying meaning and significance of these dimensional constants remains unclear: why are they present in the equations of physics, and why do they take on the values they do? If precedent suggests that constants might be viewed as placeholders for as yet undiscovered physics in our theories, then one of the challenges of physics is surely to reveal the physical meaning of these parameters. Indeed, it might be generally supposed that as physics progresses, fewer constants will be required as more fundamental theories are put forth, and that a true "theory of everything" might contain no such quantities, explaining nature from first principles alone.
Following a Machian line of reasoning, Dr. Buchalter conjectured that these “placeholder” constants were not in fact constant, but somehow fundamentally related to the global dynamics of the cosmic expansion. Many others had previously explored the notion that physical constants might vary over time, and moreover had formulated theories describing this variation that can address a range of cosmological problems. But these theories lacked a fundamental explanation of what the constants actually were and why they varied (typically only exploring some ad hoc or heuristic assumption for the variation), and failed to address some observations such as apparent cosmic acceleration from Type Ia supernova light curves.
In a 2004 paper entitled “On the time variation of c, G, and h and the dynamics of the cosmic expansion,” Dr. Buchalter examined the dimensional properties of the constants, and postulated physically-motivated definitions for the so-called constants, relating c, G, and h respectively to the time variation of the linear scale factor, volume, and surface area of the Universe. In this theory, variation in the “constants” is not due to an assumed parameterization, but rather arises naturally from their physical definitions – and means that massless particle propagation, gravity, and quantization all arise as natural consequences of the cosmic expansion.
Together with a postulated conservation law and equations of motion, Dr. Buchalter put forth the Varying Physical Parameter theory, and explored the implications of this theory in a Friedmann model arriving at several extremely interesting conclusions including:
Some of the other intriguing features of the Varying Physical Parameter theory include:
Excited by the findings and implications of this theory, Dr. Buchalter created the Buchalter Foundation with the dual purpose of:
The Buchalter Cosmology Prize was conceived on the premise that there are still fundamental gaps in our understanding of cosmology and that currently-accepted paradigms such as inflation and dark energy are incomplete, and possibly even incorrect descriptions of our Universe. It was created to stimulate ground-breaking theoretical, observational, or experimental work in cosmology that challenges, extends, or illuminates current models and/or helps explain the cosmic expansion from first principles. The ultimate goal is to help spur the formulation of a broader cosmological theory that explains current observations, puts forth testable new predictions, and fundamentally advances our understanding of physics.
Three prizes will be awarded for the 2024 Buchalter Cosmology Prize. The prize amounts will be as follows:
If a winning paper has multiple authors, the prize will be split equally among the authors.
All decisions of the judging panel, including eligibility of submissions in meeting qualification criteria and the determination of winners, will be final. No comments, reviews, or feedback will be provided.
Winners of the 2024 Buchalter Cosmology Prize will be announced in January 2025 and posted on the Announcements page.
Submission instructions and qualifications for the Buchalter Cosmology Prize are as follows:
(please fill out submitter’s information, as well as the arXiv reference number of the paper being submitted)
The Buchalter Cosmology Prize is pleased to announce the 2023 winners. The full press release can be found below.
|arXiv Reference Number
|Dr. Kyle Boone, Dr. Matthew McQuinn
|Solar System-scale interferometry on fast radio bursts could measure cosmic distances with sub-percent precision
|Dr. Denis Werth, Dr. Lucas Pinol, Dr. Sébastien Renaux-Petel
|Cosmological Flow of Primordial Correlators
|Dr. Gabriele Franciolini, Dr. Davide Racco, Dr. Fabrizio Rompineve
|Footprints of the QCD Crossover on Cosmological Gravitational Waves at Pulsar Timing Arrays
Submissions for the 2024 Buchalter Cosmology Prize are currently being accepted. Winner announcements for the 2024 prize will be made in January 2025 and posted on this page.
Annual Buchalter Cosmology Prize Announces 2023 Winners
January 11, 2024 (9:00 AM CST) – The winners of the 2023 Buchalter Cosmology Prize were announced today at the 243rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society. The Buchalter Cosmology Prize, created by Dr. Ari Buchalter in 2014, seeks to reward new ideas or discoveries that have the potential to produce a breakthrough advance in our understanding of the origin, structure, and evolution of the universe.
The $10,000 First Prize was awarded to Dr. Kyle Boone and Dr. Matthew McQuinn of the University of Washington, for their work entitled “Solar System-scale interferometry on fast radio bursts could measure cosmic distances with sub-percent precision”, published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and recognized by the judging panel for “proposing a new method for measuring cosmological distances to fast radio bursts using the differences in wavefront arrival times as measured by extremely long baseline interferometry, which could yield sub-percent constraints on cosmological parameters and a competitive new geometric constraint on the Hubble constant."
The $5,000 Second Prize was awarded to Dr. Denis Werth of the Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris (IAP-CNRS-Sorbonne Université), Dr. Lucas Pinol of the Laboratoire de Physique de l'École Normale Supérieure (ENS-CNRS-UPSL-SU-UPC), Instituto de Física Teórica (UAM-CSIC), and IAP-CNRS-Sorbonne Université, and Dr. Sébastien Renaux-Petel of the IAP-CNRS-Sorbonne Université, for their work entitled “Cosmological Flow of Primordial Correlators”, recognized by the judging panel for “presenting a novel method to systematically compute correlation functions in the early Universe across a large landscape of inflationary models, and introducing a unique theoretical framework enabling the unbiased interpretation of forthcoming cosmological survey data, which can enable tests of inflation as well as new models of physics.”
The $2,500 Third Prize was awarded to Dr. Gabriele Franciolini of CERN, Dr. Davide Racco of ETH Zurich and the University of Zurich, and Dr. Fabrizio Rompineve of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, IFAE and BIST, for their work entitled “Footprints of the QCD Crossover on Cosmological Gravitational Waves at Pulsar Timing Arrays”, recognized by the judging panel for “providing an interesting and timely test for a potential early universe contribution to the stochastic background of gravitational waves, arising from features imprinted by the QCD phase transition that could be detected by pulsar timing arrays.”
Dr. Buchalter, a former astrophysicist turned entrepreneur, was inspired to create the prize based on his own research and experience in cosmology, and the belief that fundamental breakthroughs in the field may be near at hand but may require challenging or breaking currently-accepted paradigms. “The 2023 prize winners each represent novel ideas that can test our understanding of the cosmos and potentially open up exciting new avenues of exploration,” said Dr. Buchalter.
The rotating judging panel for the prize is comprised of leading theoretical physicists noted for their work in cosmology, currently including Dr. Cora Dvorkin of Harvard University, Dr. Lam Hui of Columbia University, and Dr. Rafael Porto of Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY.
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