Whether or not the theory of supergravity, a try and unify all the forces of nature, is a real description of the world still hangs within the balance more than 40 years after it was proposed. Nonetheless, it has now nabbed its founders one of the most lucrative awards in science: a shared US$3-million Special Breakthrough Prize in fundamental physics.
Supergravity1 was devised in 1976 by particle physicists Sergio Ferrara of CERN, Europe’s particle-physics laboratory close to Geneva, Switzerland; Peter van Nieuwenhuizen of Stony Brook University in New York; and Daniel Freedman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. The selection committee that awarded the prize chose to honor the theory, partly, for its influence on the understanding of ordinary gravity. Supergravity additionally underpins one of physicists’ favorite candidate ‘theories of everything’, string theory. The latter asserts that elementary particles are made from tiny threads of energy, but it surely remains unproven.
“Supergravity has been transcendently essential within the development of physics for the past 40 years and in our exploration of what may lie beyond what we know about nature,” says string theorist Andrew Strominger at Harvard University in Cambridge, who sat on the prize’s selection committee.
Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner launched the Breakthrough Prizes in 2012, and funders now include Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Awards are given out in the direction of the end of every year, throughout a range of fields in science and mathematics. However, the selection committee — picked from the pool of previous Breakthrough prizewinners — could make special awards to acknowledge exceptional work. In 2013, for instance, Stephen Hawking won for his theory — additionally still untested experimentally — that black holes give off radiation.