The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Basic Sciences category goes, in this eighth edition, to Stephen Hawking and Viatcheslav Mukhanov for groundbreaking contributions to fundamental cosmology.
Stephen Hawking and Viatcheslav Mukhanov proposed that microscopic quantum fluctuations were at the origin of the observable large scale structure of the Universe. This insight, which has now been validated by observations, is a fundamental result in cosmology.
Mukhanov (together with G. Chibisov, deceased in 2008) was the first to recognize that the structure of the Universe, including the formation of galaxies, may have a microscopic quantum origin. In particular, he discovered in 1981 that quantum fluctuations must be amplified during the stage of cosmic inflation of space. His elegant theory leads to small spatial temperature variations in the cosmic microwave background radiation with a precisely predictable non-trivial logarithmic spatial spectrum.
Hawking was perhaps best known for his fundamental insights into the physics of black holes, including their radiation and the role of entropy. In 1982 he independently considered a scenario for cosmic acceleration in the presence of quantum fluctuations and came to the same conclusion as Mukhanov.
The cosmic microwave background radiation has been mapped during several satellite missions. The final spectacular confirmation of the predictions of Hawking and Mukhanov came with the release of the data of the Planck space telescope mission in 2013, which are in astounding agreement with the theoretical predictions.
The theory developed by V. Mukhanov and S. Hawking may be regarded as the single most significant experimentally confirmed achievement that brings together fundamental theoretical particle physics and cosmology.