The Buchalter Cosmology Prize

The Buchalter Cosmology Prize

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 2015 Buchalter Cosmology Prize have been announced.

Submissions for the 2016 Buchalter Cosmology Prize will be accepted from October 1st, 2015 through September 30th, 2016. The prize amounts will be as follows:

  • First Prize: $10,000
  • Second Prize: $5,000
  • Third Prize: $2,500

Winners of the 2016 Buchalter Cosmology Prize will be announced in January 2017 and posted on the Announcements page. Additional prize details are available here.

Vision and Mission

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:

  • How did the Universe begin and how will it end?
  • How did the Universe evolve from its early state into what we observe today? (from galaxy superclusters down to subatomic particles)
  • What are the properties of the Universe that govern its expansion? (e.g., spacetime curvature, relative amounts of different species of matter & energy, etc.)

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.

About Dr. Buchalter

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 the present, Dr. Buchalter has served as Chief Operating Officer of MediaMath, a leading global advertising technology company. Overseeing the Engineering, Product, and Business Operations functions, he leads the development of MediaMath’s media trading and data management platform, proprietary machine-learning algorithms, and core business processes.

Dr. Buchalter serves on the advisory boards for several technology startup 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.

A Novel Idea

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:

  • The prediction of a flat, Ω0 = 1 universe that is decelerating and contains no dark energy.
  • A natural solution to the so-called “horizon problem” (whereby the horizon grows faster than the scale factor, making it seemingly impossible for causally disconnected regions of the sky to have same CMB temperature) without the need for inflation, by virtue of c having been greater in the past.
  • A natural solution to the so-called “flatness problem” (whereby small deviations from Ω0 = 1 would have been magnified by orders of magnitude by the curvature term in the present epoch, suggesting incredible fine tuning) by virtue a flat Ω0 = 1 universe.
  • A natural solution to the Lambda problem (whereby the density of matter & energy species should have decayed rapidly relative to the dark energy density, yet they are of comparable magnitude today) by virtue of a zero cosmological constant.
  • An apparent fit to the observations of Type Ia supernovae out to high redshift, without invoking a cosmological constant term.
  • Potentially testable predictions for the time variation of the physical parameters, including decaying c and growing h that might be measured on human timescales.
  • Consistency with all other investigated cosmological tests and terrestrial experimental constraints.

Some of the other intriguing features of the Varying Physical Parameter theory include:

  • Re-derivation of cosmological scaling laws, which preserves most of the currently-accepted relations (e.g., the distance-redshift relation).
  • A generalized mass conservation law, whereby all species (matter, radiation, etc.) are assumed to have an “equivalent mass” which is globally conserved.
  • Equivalence between our universe and a black hole, as noted in other theories, and consistency with the Hawking Area Theorem for black holes (with effectively no quantum evaporation).
  • A definition of “Cosmic Entropy” proportional to the product of the mass of the Universe and time derivative of its area, which can never decrease.
  • Consistency with the notion of a cosmological holographic principle (whereby information contained in an N-dimensional of space can be represented by a theory specified on the N-1 dimensional surface of that space).
  • Consistency with the basic postulates of Special Relativity through the interpretation of a preferred time coordinate as the co-moving proper time in the cosmological frame, and predicted energy non-conservation within laboratory limits.
  • Natural mechanisms relating massless particles propagation (swept along geodesics at the speed of the cosmic expansion), gravity, and quantization to the dynamics of the cosmic expansion.

Excited by the findings and implications of this theory, Dr. Buchalter created the Buchalter Foundation with the dual purpose of:

  • Facilitating and/or funding investigation into the Varying Physical Parameter theory (those interested in pursuing research in this area should contact the Buchalter Foundation)
  • Encouraging others to explore innovative and potentially paradigm-challenging new ideas on the cosmic expansion through the creation and endowment of The Buchalter Cosmology Prize

Prize Details

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.

Qualifications and stipulations for the prize are as follows:

  • Submissions must be original and innovative work in cosmology that puts forth either new theories, new observations, or new methods that have the potential to produce a breakthrough advance beyond our present understanding of the standard cosmological model and currently-accepted paradigms.
    • Potential examples of theoretical work might include innovative theories that can explain a wide range of cosmological observations from first principles without invoking the paradigms of inflation or dark energy, or conversely, new ideas that provide a fundamental physical motivation for inflation or dark energy (other than merely as solutions to the horizon problem and apparent cosmic acceleration).
    • Potential examples of observational or experimental work might include new observational data that credibly challenges currently-accepted models, observational tests supporting or refuting alternative cosmological theories (e.g., of the kind described immediately above), proposed experimental methods for direct detection of dark matter, dark energy, or inflation, or results from such tests (whether positive or negative).
    • Submissions which merely validate current models but are not deemed to credibly and meaningfully extend or challenge our understanding will not be eligible.
  • Submissions will only be considered from individuals who currently hold a PhD in Physics, Astrophysics, Astronomy, or a closely-related field, or are currently in an accredited graduate program pursuing a PhD degree in these fields.
  • Submissions must first be entered as English-written papers into arxiv.org, and the corresponding arXiv reference number (e.g., “arXiv:YYMM.NNNN”) entered in the Submission Form for the prize.
  • Submitters may enter papers which they have authored, or may nominate the work of other authors.
  • For the 2016 prize, submissions must be made on this website between October 1st, 2015 and September 30th, 2016, and the original arXiv publication date of the paper being submitted must be no earlier than January 1, 2014.
  • Submitters may enter up to three submissions for consideration in any annual cycle of the Prize.
  • Resubmissions of papers entered in prior years will not be considered.
  • Advisors for the Prize, as well as the active panel Judges and the prior panel of Judges, are ineligible to submit papers or share in any portion of a prize. Submitted papers on which any of the prize Advisors, active Judges, or the prior panel of Judges are authors, will not be considered.
  • Submitters will receive an email confirmation within 24 hours of their submission.

Three prizes will be awarded for the 2016 Buchalter Cosmology Prize (assuming at least as many qualifying submissions are received). The prize amounts will be as follows:

  • First Prize: $10,000
  • Second Prize: $5,000
  • Third Prize: $2,500

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 and no comments, reviews, or feedback will be provided.

Winners of the 2016 Buchalter Cosmology Prize will be announced in January 2017 and posted on the Announcements page..

Submissions

Submission instructions for the Buchalter Cosmology Prize are as follows:

  • Submissions must first be entered into arxiv.org as English-written papers. Please be sure to obtain an arXiv reference number for your paper, and read the Prize Details thoroughly before submitting to ensure eligibility.
  • Submissions must be original and innovative work in cosmology that puts forth either new theories, new observations, or new methods that have the potential to produce a breakthrough advance beyond our present understanding of the standard cosmological model and currently-accepted paradigms.
    • Potential examples of theoretical work might include innovative theories that can explain a wide range of cosmological observations from first principles without invoking the paradigms of inflation or dark energy, or conversely, new ideas that provide a fundamental physical motivation for inflation or dark energy (other than merely as solutions to the horizon problem and apparent cosmic acceleration).
    • Potential examples of observational or experimental work might include new observational data that credibly challenges currently-accepted models, observational tests supporting or refuting alternative cosmological theories (e.g., of the kind described immediately above), proposed experimental methods for direct detection of dark matter, dark energy, or inflation, or results from such tests (whether positive or negative).
    • Submissions which merely validate current models but are not deemed to credibly and meaningfully extend or challenge our understanding will not be eligible.
  • Submissions will only be considered from individuals who currently hold a PhD in Physics, Astrophysics, Astronomy, or a closely-related field, or are currently in an accredited graduate program pursuing a PhD degree in these fields.
  • Submitters may enter papers which they have authored, or may nominate the work of other authors.
  • For the 2016 prize, submissions must be made on this website between October 1st, 2015 and September 30th, 2016, and the original arXiv publication date of the paper being submitted must be no earlier than January 1, 2014.
  • Submitters may enter up to three submissions for consideration in any annual cycle of the Prize.
  • Resubmissions of papers entered in prior years will not be considered.

Submission Form

(please fill out submitter’s information, as well as the arXiv reference number of the paper being submitted)

Submitters will receive an email confirmation within 24 hours of their submission.

Announcements

The Buchalter Cosmology Prize is pleased to announce the 2015 winners. The full press release can be found below.

Prize Authors Paper Title arXiv Reference Number
First Prize Julian Barbour, Tim Koslowski, Flavio Mercati Identification of a gravitational arrow of time arXiv:1409.0917
Second Prize Nemanja Kaloper, Antonio Padilla Sequestering the Standard Model Vacuum Energy arXiv:1309.6562
Third Prize Niayesh Afshordi, Elliot Nelson Cosmological Non-Constant Problem: Cosmological bounds on TeV-scale physics and beyond arXiv:1504.00012

Submissions for the 2016 Buchalter Cosmology Prize are currently being accepted. Winner announcements will be made in January 2017 and posted on this page.

PRESS RELEASES

Annual Buchalter Cosmology Prize Announces 2015 Winners

Kissimmee, FL – January 6, 2016 (9:20 AM EST) – The winners of the 2015 Buchalter Cosmology Prize were announced today at the 227th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Kissimmee, Florida. The annual 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. Julian Barbour of the University of Oxford, Dr. Tim Koslowski of the University of New Brunswick, and Dr. Flavio Mercati of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, for their work entitled "Identification of a gravitational arrow of time" published in Physical Review Letters and recognized by the judging panel as “an insightful step towards showing that an arrow of time is a natural expectation in cosmology, rather than a feature that requires significant fine-tuning as suggested by current theories.”

The $5,000 Second Prize was awarded to Dr. Nemanja Kaloper of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Antonio Padilla of the University of Nottingham, for their work entitled “Sequestering the Standard Model Vacuum Energy” published in Physical Review Letters and recognized by the judging panel as “a novel scheme to tame the gravitational effect of the cosmological constant via a reformulation of Einstein's equations of General Relativity, predicting a finite Universe that will collapse in the future, and in which cosmic acceleration is a transient phenomenon.”

The $2,500 Third Prize was awarded to Dr. Niayesh Afshordi of the University of Waterloo and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, and Dr. Elliot Nelson of Pennsylvania State University and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, for their work entitled “Cosmological Non-Constant Problem: Cosmological bounds on TeV-scale physics and beyond” recognized by the judging panel as “an intriguing proposition that the Planck scale of quantum gravity may soon be accessible by particle accelerators, based on the expected white noise fluctuations in the cosmological constant, which might not be constant at all but vary widely in space.”

Dr. Buchalter, a former astrophysicist turned entrepreneur, was inspired to create the prize basedon his own research and experience in cosmology, and the belief that fundamental breakthroughs in cosmology still lie ahead, but may require altering, challenging, or even breaking some currently-accepted paradigms. “The 2015 prize winners represent the kind of innovative thinking that can significantly advance our understanding of the universe,” said Dr. Buchalter.

The prestigious judging panel for the prize is comprised of leading theoretical physicists noted for their work in cosmology, including Dr. Sean Carroll of the California Institute of Technology, Dr. Robert Caldwell of Dartmouth College, and Dr. Joao Magueijo of Imperial College London.

Contact:

info@buchaltercosmologyprize.org.

Previous Winners

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Advisors and Judges

Chairman

  • Dr. Ari Buchalter


Advisory Board Members

  • Dr. David J Helfand, Columbia University
  • Dr. Marc Kamionkowski, Johns Hopkins University


Active Judging Panel

  • Dr. Sean Carroll, California Institute of Technology
  • Dr. Robert Caldwell, Dartmouth College
  • Dr. João Magueijo, Imperial College London

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