A Russian-born billionaire who dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School has just made the Nobel Prize for Physics look like chump change.

Yuri Milner, 50, has made big splashes before, investing hundreds of millions in the likes of Facebook and Groupon, gracing the cover of Forbes last year, and, this spring, spending $100 million for a single-family Silicon Valley home.

Now, Milner, who was educated as a physicist before seeking his Wharton M.B.A. in the early '90s, has awarded $3 million each to nine physicists, including four at Princeton's Center for Advanced Study.

The payout that goes with the Nobel Prize is worth $1.2 million, and it's often split two or three ways.

The winners are:

Princeton's Nima Arkani-Hamed, Juan Maldacena, Nathan Seiberg and Edward Witten.

MIT's Alan Guth.

Stanford's Andrei Linde.

California Institute of Technology's Alexei Kitaev.

France's Maxim Kontsevich.

India's Ashoke Sen.

Their work ranges from quantum computers to the expansion of the universe to string theory, the intriguing but unproven mathematical way to explain the universe using infinitesmal vibrating strings and more than four dimensions.

The nine recipients will, in turn, select future winnners along with Nobel winner Steven Weinberg.

These nine were selected by Milner himself, who built his fortune through Internet companies. After becoming CEO of Russia's biggest e-mail service, he founded an investment group, Digital Sky Technologies, that has, since 2009, bought huge stakes in Facebook, Groupon and game-maker Zynga, known best for Facebook diversions such as Farmville.

Forbes put Milner's worth at $1 billion in March, but that his billionaire status may have taken a hit with recent declines in stock prices for all three of those Internet-based companies.

Milner also made headlines in May with his purchase of a "Palo Alto Loire chateau" for a reported $100 million, one of the most expenses such deals ever, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Here's the description by West Coast classical architect William Hablinski: "Set on a spectacular 18-acre hilltop site with panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay, this classical estate inspired by 18th-century French chateaux is organized around a central entry court enclosing a formal entrance on three sides. The north wing is designed for entertaining on a grand scale, with a ballroom, formal dining room, home theater, wine cellar and spa/gym, while the south wing houses family rooms and bedroom suites. The living areas are all located on the second floor to take advantage of the dramatic Bay views."

"I hope the new prize will bring long overdue recognition to the greatest minds working in the field of fundamental physics, and if this helps encourage young people to be inspired by science, I will be deeply gratified," Milner said in announcing the prize.

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.