Sergio Ferrara, UCLA professor emeritus of physics and a member of UCLA’s Bhaumik Institute for Theoretical Physics, is one of three winners of the 2020 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

Ferrara will share the $3 million prize with Daniel Freedman of MIT and Stanford University, and Peter van Nieuwenhuizen of Stony Brook University, for their discovery of supergravity, the “highly influential 1976 theory that successfully integrated the force of gravity into a particular kind of quantum field theory,” according to the award announcement.

“When we think of the great works of the human imagination, we often mean art, music and literature,” said Yuri Milner, one of the founders of the Breakthrough Prize. “But some of the most profound and beautiful creations are those of scientists. Supergravity has inspired physicists for decades and may contain deep truths about the nature of reality.”

In the 40-plus years since Ferrara, Freedman and van Nieuwenhuizen published their theory, “supergravity has had a powerful influence on theoretical physics. Supergravity provides a rigorous mathematical answer to the question, ‘What theories of nature are compatible with the principles of both quantum mechanics and special relativity?’” the announcement said.

Previous winners of the prize include Stephen Hawking and the CERN scientists who led the research that produced the discovery of the Higgs boson. The prize recognizes physicists working on the universe’s deepest mysteries, who have made profound contributions to human knowledge. The Breakthrough Prizes are sometimes known as the “Oscars of science.”

The Breakthrough Prizes are sponsored by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Ma Huateng, Yuri and Julia Milner and Anne Wojcicki.

Ferrara also is an emeritus physicist at the CERN department of theoretical physics. He, Freedman and van Nieuwenhuizen will be honored at an award ceremony in November, along with recipients of Breakthrough Prizes in other fields.