2006 Agilent Technologies Europhysics Prize awarded for theory that explains properties of materials


Agilent Technologies Inc. today announced that the European Physical Society (EPS) has awarded the 2006 Agilent Europhysics Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Condensed matter Physics to four scientists for their development and application of the Dynamical Mean Field Theory, which explains properties of materials that previously had been poorly understood.

The honorees are Antoine Georges, Ecole Polytechnique, France; Gabriel Kotliar, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, United States; Walter Metzner, Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research, Germany; and Dieter Vollhardt, Universitat Augsburg, Germany.

During the past century, remarkable advances in technology have often followed the development of new materials with useful properties. For example, the revolution in electronics depends on the ability to understand the physics of semiconductors and to design devices that use their novel properties.

Theoretical techniques to understand and predict the behavior of materials play an important role in realizing technological advances. Although some materials have great potential for applications, prevailing theoretical techniques have been inadequate. For example, a complete theoretical understanding remains elusive in high-temperature superconducting materials and in materials for advanced magnetic storage devices.

Although the fundamental physical principles that describe materials are well known, the application of these principles is extremely complex. Even a small sample has huge numbers of interacting particles, each affecting the motion of all the others. In particular, electrons are strongly repelled by any nearby electrons. Because it is not possible to account for the motions of all these particles in detail, physicists have to make approximations.

One method is to assume that the electrons traveling throughout the material are interacting weakly enough that it is sufficient to treat each electron as if it is in an unchanging sea of other electrons. Another approach is to assume that the electron-electron repulsion dominates, causing the electrons to be strongly localized to individual atoms. Unfortunately, some of the most interesting materials cannot be understood either way.

Georges, Kotliar, Metzner, and Vollhardt have developed and applied a new theoretical method called Dynamical Mean Field Theory. This theory, in combination with other techniques, describes the entire range of materials, encompassing weakly interacting and strongly localized models within one framework, leading to remarkably accurate predictions.

The winners of the Prize have applied their new theory to many materials, explaining phenomena that had previously been poorly understood, and making predictions that were subsequently verified by experiment. They have created a rich new field of condensed matter physics that will enable many important insights and discoveries in the years to come.

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