SIMES Researcher Recognized for Work in Topological Insulators

By Lori Ann White
December 12, 2012

Shoucheng Zhang, a condensed matter theorist with the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences, a joint SLAC-Stanford institute, has been named one of five recipients of a 2013 Physics Frontiers Prize for his work on topological insulators. The award, announced Tuesday, places him in the running for the next five years for the Fundamental Physics Prize, worth $3 million. The winner of the second annual Fundamental Physics Prize will be announced March 20 at CERN.

The Fundamental Physics Prize, administered by Russian physicist-tycoon Yuri Milner’s Fundamental Physics Prize Foundation, “recognizes transformative advances in the field … with the aim of providing the recipients with more freedom and opportunity to pursue even greater future accomplishments,” according to the foundation’s website.

Zhang, along with Charles Kane of the University of Pennsylvania and Laurens Molenkamp of the University of Würzburg, was recognized for work on the theoretical prediction and experimental discovery of topological insulators – an exotic form of matter that conducts electricity on its surface while behaving as an electrical insulator in its core.

“I feel truly humbled by the Physics Frontier Prize,” said Zhang. “It also brings honor and distinction to the wonderful work done by all my colleagues here at SIMES and Stanford, in the emergent field of topological insulators.”

Zhang has already received numerous awards for his theoretical work on topological insulators and other topics, including the 2010 Europhysics Prize, awarded by the Condensed Matter Division of the European Physical Society; the 2012 Dirac Medal, awarded by the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics; and the 2012 Oliver E. Buckley Prize in Condensed Matter Physics, awarded by the American Physical Society.

In the meantime, experimental work on topological insulators based on Zhang’s theories continues at both SLAC and Stanford and has already resulted in switching devices with the potential for use in advanced electronics.

"It's been a banner year for Shoucheng," said Tom Devereaux, director of SIMES. "We are absolutely delighted to see his leadership in the field of topological insulators be widely recognized with this and his other prizes this year."

Other Physics Frontier Prize winners were Alexander Polyakov of Princeton University, for work in field theory and string theory, and Joseph Polchinski of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, for work in quantum field theory and string theory.


Photo - Shoucheng Zhang
Shoucheng Zhang, a condensed matter theorist with the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences, a joint SLAC-Stanford institute. (Credit: Brad Plummer)