Karin Rabe is a computational materials physicist with a particular interest in the use of first-principles quantum-mechanical calculations for the study of phase transitions and the theoretical design of new materials. Born in New York City, she attended the Bronx High School of Science and majored in physics at Princeton University. She received a Ph.D. in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1987) with thesis supervisor John Joannopoulos. Following two postdoctoral years in the theory department at AT&T Bell Laboratories, she joined the Department of Applied Physics and the Department of Physics at Yale University, with tenure in 1995, and moved to the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Rutgers in 2000, where she was promoted to Board of Governors professor of physics in 2013. She served as president of the Aspen Center for Physics from 2013 to 2016. Her recent professional recognition includes fellowship in the American Physical Society (2003), the David Adler Lectureship Award in the Field of Materials Physics from the American Physical Society (2008), fellowship in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2011) and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2013) and the National Academy of Sciences (2013).
Using computational methods to solve the quantum mechanics of crystalline solids from first principles, Rabe studies systems at or near structural, electronic and magnetic phase transitions, including ferroelectrics, antiferroelectrics, piezoelectrics, high-k dielectrics, multiferroics and shape-memory compounds. The high sensitivity of such materials to applied fields and stresses gives rise to functional behavior with a broad range of technological applications, including information and energy storage and conversion. Rabe has a particular interest in the properties of non-bulk structures stabilized in strained thin layers and the distinctive properties of interfaces in superlattices and other artificially structured systems, which are most efficiently explored by first-principles-based modeling. She is currently focusing on the integration of first-principles methods with materials structure and property databases for the theoretical design of new materials with optimized or novel functional behavior and the discovery of new classes of functional materials.