Similar to the MacArthur Foundation‚Äôs ‚ÄúGenius Grants,‚ÄĚ the prize comes from the nonprofit with no strings attached. It is intended to enable the researchers to undertake long-term study of fundamental questions in theoretical fields.
Kane, a professor of physics in the School of Arts and Sciences‚Äô Department of Physics and Astronomy, was surprised. None of the 21 mathematicians, theoretical physicists and theoretical computer scientists who were awarded was aware he or she had been nominated by the foundation‚Äôs selection board until receiving an e-mail detailing the terms of the grant.
‚ÄúI had heard that the Simons Foundation was going to do something like this, but I didn‚Äôt know any of the details,‚ÄĚ Kane said. ‚ÄúThis came completely out of the blue. When I get an e-mail that says ‚ÄėCongratulations,‚Äô my first instinct is to delete it. I‚Äôm glad I didn‚Äôt.‚ÄĚ
The award was in recognition for his work in the physics that govern the behavior of electrons in different kinds of materials and structures. Kane‚Äôs major contribution in this field is his theory of topological insulators, for which he shared the 2012 Buckley Prize of the American Physical Society and the 2011 Europhysics Prize of the European Physical Society.
‚ÄúA topological insulator is an insulator in that it doesn‚Äôt conduct electricity on the inside, but it does conduct electricity in a very special way on its surface,‚ÄĚ Kane said. ‚ÄúIf you combine these materials with a superconductor, you can create a state that hosts an exotic particle known as a Majorana fermion, which in principle provides a route to making a kind of quantum computer.‚ÄĚ
The grant comes with additional $100,000 that goes to the department and University. At the end of the five years, the foundation will consider Kane‚Äôs work for an additional five years of funding.