Andrew Millis to Receive Hamburg Prize for Theoretical Physics

Andrew Millis, associate director of physics at the Simons Foundation and co-director of the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Physics (CCQ), will receive the Hamburg Prize for Theoretical Physics 2017. The prize is jointly awarded by the Joachim Herz Foundation and the Hamburg Centre for Ultrafast Imaging (CUI) at Universität Hamburg.

The prize recognizes Millis, who is also professor of physics at Columbia University, for his outstanding research in condensed-matter physics, a field focusing on atomic and molecular interactions in solids and liquids. His work enables calculations that predict electronic properties of materials, including electrical conductivity and magnetism. He has made landmark discoveries in properties of superconducting materials (which can conduct electric current without resistance).

Whereas most superconductors must be cooled to extremely low temperatures to reach lossless conductivity — a time-consuming and expensive process — a few become superconducting at much higher temperatures. Millis’ research has enhanced our understanding of these special materials, and his recent work may provide a path to pushing the temperature threshold for superconductivity even higher, perhaps all the way to room temperature.

The creation of a room-temperature superconductor could save enormous amounts of power, resulting in fewer power plants, reduced greenhouse-gas emissions and lower costs overall. Indeed, superconducting wires may be the only way to provide the power needed by the increasingly dense cities of the 21st century. Millis’ latest findings hint at a new path in this direction by showing how intense, ultra-short, laser pulses can potentially push higher the temperature at which materials become superconducting — possibly even as high as room temperature.

“Dr. Millis is a very creative theoretical physicist who has made outstanding contributions to the physics of superconductors and far more. We are all very much looking forward to many stimulating discussions with him,” says Klaus Sengstock, head of the jury and spokesperson of the cluster of excellence CUI at Universität Hamburg.

Millis studied physics at Harvard University and received a doctoral degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1986. He then worked as a scientist at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. In 1996 Millis was appointed professor at Johns Hopkins University and three years later moved to Rutgers University. In 2001 he joined the physics department at Columbia University, where he served as department chair from 2006 – 2009. He has been associate director for physics at the Simons Foundation since 2011 and was named CCQ co-director in 2017.

As a prize recipient, Millis will receive 40,000 euros (about $46,000) and go to Germany to research and to teach in Hamburg. “I am delighted to have the opportunity to spend time at the Universität Hamburg, the Deutsches-Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) and the Max Planck Institute, and to work with the outstanding scientists whose presence makes Hamburg one of the best locations for my kind of research,” Millis said.

Andrea Pauline Martin, vice chairwoman of the executive board of the Joachim Herz Foundation, emphasized that “Andrew Millis is a progressive thinker and pioneer who has been paving the ground for solving the 21st century’s problems in resource and energy efficiency. I am convinced that senior as well as young scientists will equally profit from his expertise.”

The Hamburg Prize for Theoretical Physics was established in 2010 by the “Frontiers in Quantum Photon Science,” a so-called cluster of excellence, through support from the Joachim Herz Foundation. Since 2013 the prize is awarded jointly by the foundation and CUI.

The award ceremony will take place on November 9, 2017, during the annual CUI Colloquium at Science Campus Bahrenfeld in Hamburg.

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