Alexei Kitaev, Professor of Physics, Computer Science, and Mathematics at Caltech, has received the Fundamental Physics Prize. This prize, which is being awarded for the first time, was established by Internet billionaire and one-time particle theorist Yuri Milner. The prize citation recognizes Kitaev’s “theoretical idea of implementing robust quantum memories and fault-tolerant quantum computation using topological quantum phases with anyons and unpaired Majorana modes.” As one of nine recipients, he will receive three million dollars.
Kitaev’s 1997 paper on Fault-tolerant quantum computation by anyons proposed exploiting exotic two-dimensional quantum states of matter for robust storage and processing of quantum information. Later, in the 2000 paper Unpaired Majorana fermions in quantum wires, he made a more concrete proposal to store quantum information robustly in suitably configured one-dimensional systems. The key insight behind both proposals is that when a quantum state is distributed non-locally among many elementary objects, it can be well protected from damage due to uncontrolled interactions with its environment. Kitaev’s ideas are now being vigorously pursued by theorists and experimentalists around the world, and in particular by researchers here at the IQIM.
Concerning the monetary value of the award, Milner explained: “I wanted to send a message that fundamental science is important, so the sum had to be significant.”
If you compare the works that led to the award, it seems Kitaev’s result is much easier to fully understand from undergraduate level of knowledge in theoretical physics. Or is it just my biased opinion? Maybe cosmology is also conceptually simple, but other 7 scientist have very heavy on formalism works.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, after all. Still, Alexei’s recent work on the classification of phases is not for the faint of heart.
The NYTimes quote just begs for an entry to be written by Kitaev on his educational journey and some of the teachers in his life! 🙂