Pioneering gravity research snags $3 million physics Breakthrough Prize

A team of physicists just snared $3 million for testing the law of gravity like never before. Eric Adelberger, Jens Gundlach and Blayne Heckel won the 2021 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics “for precision fundamental measurements that test our understanding of gravity, probe the nature of dark energy and establish limits on couplings to dark matter,” Breakthrough Prize representatives announced on September 10. The trio, leaders of the Eöt-Wash research group at the University of Washington in Seattle, has built equipment sensitive enough to measure gravity, the weakest of nature’s four fundamental forces, at incredibly short distances. Such work has helped shape physicists’ big-picture understanding of the universe.

The Breakthrough Prize in science and math was founded in 2012 by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, and Yuri and Julia Milner. The annual awards aim to spur ground-breaking research in the life sciences, mathematics and fundamental physics, and to inspire children to pursue careers in science and technology, Breakthrough Prize representatives have said. The Breakthrough Prize is the richest in science, with each one worth three times more than a Nobel Prize.

Four $3 million Breakthrough awards were granted this year in the life sciences, one in mathematics and two in fundamental physics. University of Texas physicist Steven Weinberg won the second physics award, a Special Breakthrough Prize honouring his “continuous leadership in fundamental physics, with broad impact across particle physics, gravity and cosmology, and for communicating science to a wider audience.”