The (not-so-anymore) news is that the "Special Breakthrough prize" in fundamental physics, instituted a decade ago by Russian philantropist Yuri Milner, and then co-funded by other filthy wealthy folks, recently went to three brillant theoretical physicists: Sergio Ferrara, Dan Freedman, and Peter van Nieuwenzhuizen, who in the seventies developed an elegant quantum field theory, SuperGravity.
SUGRA, as the theory came to ba called, reconciled the then recently discovered idea of a supersymmetric "mirror world" of all known subnuclear particles (Supersymmetry, which offered a radical solution to the naturalness issue in particle theory) with the theory of gravitation. All the while, SUGRA also offered a solution to some of the nagging shortcomings of our (still) currently accepted theory of fundamental interactions, the Standard Model. It is a sad story that SUGRA never got a confirmation by experiment to this day, so that it remains a brilliant, failed idea.
So, you see, my way of spinning the story is that there is no story - I describe it as a private decision by a wealthy individual (as much as it is quite well informed by the judgement of a number of previous prize recipients, who are admittedly not a random bunch of folks), and we should take it as such, regardless of the size of the donation involved in awarding the resoundingly titled prize. Why am I taking it this way, though?
The reason is that after the announcement was made, I have been reading in social media long discussions on the matter. Scientists ponder on whether the decision to award the prize to X,Y, and Z was correct or misguided; whether the money could have been spent in boosting valuable research in this or that other topic; whether instead the prize should only go to theorists who predicted things that were later confirmed by experiment (SUGRA is, to this day, only a beautiful, failed theory). And so on. I find the discussion tedious, unconverging and useless.
What we should realize is that the only practical interest in the award is its echo in the media, and the resulting interest toward fundamental physics research it generates in laypersons. Other than that, there is no real news - we are only talking about three large checks being handed to retired theoretical physicists who maybe deserved the Nobel prize but did not get it yet (I am leaving the door open to the possibility that the LHC eventually finds Supersymmetric particles and in some way resurrects SUGRA, although the chance of this is basically zero).
[Rant mode on] An exception to the above is, of course, the effect that this not insignificant influx of cash and 23rd-hour recognition has on theoretical physicists. For they seem to be the preferred recipients of the breakthrough prize as of late, not unsurprisingly. Apparently, building detectors and developing new methods to study subnuclear reactions, which are our only way to directly fathom the unknown properties of elementary particles, is not considered enough of a breakthrough by Milner's jury as it is to concoct elegant, albeit wrong, theories of nature. [Rant mode off]
Going back to the effect on laypersons: this is of course positive. Already the sheer idea that you may earn enough cash to buy a Ferrari and a villa in Malibu beach in one shot by writing smart formulas on a sheet of paper is suggestive, in a world dominated by the equation "is paid very well, so it is important". But even more important is the echo that he prize - somewhere by now dubbed "the Oscar of Physics" - is having on the media. Whatever works to bring science to the fore is welcome in my book.
I should note that besides all the above, I am quite happy to know that the passionate work of three brilliant theorists is recognized in a significant, publicized act. So due congratulations come from this site to Ferrara, Freedman and van Nieuwen Huidzen! And in some way I wish more Milners appeared at the horizon. Or maybe not. I consider the enormous inequality of wealth of individuals in this planet one of its main cancers, one which cannot be cured with the spontaneous squandering of part of that wealth according to the wish of those who acquired it. And that, as Lubos says, is the memo.