Physicists win Fudan-Zhongzhi Science Award

Li Qian
Renowned scientists from the US, the UK and China share prestigious award for their achievements in the field of physics at a ceremony held in Shanghai.
Li Qian

Three renowned physicists have been honored with this year’s Fudan-Zhongzhi Science Award.

Professor Michael Berry of the University of Bristol, Professor Charles Kane of the University of Pennsylvania and academician Xue Qikun of the Chinese Academy of Sciences received the honor at a ceremony in Shanghai on Sunday.

Berry is known for introducing the geometric phase in basic quantum mechanics. Widely known as the Berry phase, it serves as a basic concept to understand a number of important systems in condensed matter physics such as the quantum Hall effect..

“Physics is not just concerning the nature of things, but concerning the interconnectedness of all the nature of things,” Berry said in a video message.

He explained his theory as a connecting idea. “It links phenomena in different areas: energies of molecules, quantum materials, optical microscopy, swimming of tiny organisms, even the peristalsis of our stomach as we digest food,” he said.

Kane has proposed many key theoretical concepts that generated the field of topological insulators in 2007.

The revolutionary material known as the “next big thing” after graphene insulates the interior of electronic devices but conducts electricity on the surfaces because it only allows electrons to move along the surfaces. With great application potential in semiconductors, it can prevent electricity leakage and allow low consumption.

Kane expressed his thanks to Berry through a video message.

“The concepts introduced by Professor Berry are remarkable for their depth and breadth of application, and they underlie much of what I have studied over my entire career, including topological insulators,” he said.

He added: “This combination of real-world application along with theoretical depth and beauty is what to me makes the best of theoretical physics.”

Kane also highly praised Xue’s use of theories.

“Professor Xue made these abstract concepts, like topology, and Berry's phase, come to life in the real world with his groundbreaking experimental work,” he said.

Xue is best known for the discovery of the quantum anomalous Hall effect, which was described by Nobel laureate Chen-Ning Yang as qualified for Nobel Prize.

“Usually, electrons move about randomly and bump into atoms, which slow them and make them lose energy. But under the quantum anomalous Hall effect, electrons are like cars driving on expressways which move ahead in lines and can’t turn about. So, they move faster and expend less energy,” Xue told Shanghai Daily.

America’s leading scientific journal Science commented on his discovery as the most important in condensed matter physics in recent years. It is also the cutting-edge research favored by physicists across the world because it is widely believed to accelerate the information technology revolution.

Xue said it is expected to be used in any electronic device.

It can lessen heat production and energy waste, indicating the improvement of speed and efficiency, he said. And he pointed to the possibility of combining topological insulators with quantum computation.

The Fudan-Zhongzhi Science Award was founded by Fudan University and Zhongzhi Enterprise Group in 2015 to recognize scientists who make fundamental achievements in the fields of mathematics, physics and biomedicine. Seven scientists have won the award in the past four years.

It is the second year it has been presented in the field of physics. In 2017, the award was shared by three American physicists — Rainer Weiss, Kip Stephen Thorne and Barry Clark Barish. They were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics just one month later.

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