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    Top Award Goes to Würzburg Physicists

    12/11/2012

    University of Würzburg physicist Laurens Molenkamp has received the "Physics Frontiers Prize 2013", which is valued at altogether 300,000 US dollars. As a consequence, he is automatically nominated for the "Fundamental Physics Prize" – currently the most lucrative academic prize in the world.

    The Fundamental Physics Prize Foundation awarded the Physics Frontiers Prize to Würzburg experimental physicist Professor Laurens Molenkamp and his American colleagues Charles Kane and Shoucheng Zhang for the theoretical prediction and experimental verification of topological insulators. This has been announced by the foundation today.

    The laureates are automatically nominated as candidates for the Fundamental Physics Prize, the winners of which will be announced in March 2013. This award is worth three million US dollars. Should Molenkamp and his colleagues not be picked as winners, they will still receive $ 100,000 each. Furthermore, they will be automatically renominated for the prize for a period of five years.

    Topological insulators

    Topological insulators conduct electricity only on their surface, but not in their interior. In the thin layers of some of these materials, the edge current consists of exactly two channels in which the individual electrons flow. The flow direction in the two channels is opposite to each other as is the spin orientation of the electrons. This behavior is called the quantum spin Hall effect (QSH) due to its analogy to the quantum Hall effect. The QSH effect was discovered in 2007 by the research group of Professor Laurens Molenkamp at the University of Würzburg.

    Their research findings did not fail to attract strong attention within the scientific community: The QSH effect can be used, for instance, to transport and manipulate information without energy loss in advanced storage media. This opens up exciting prospects: The future application of the newly discovered effect in the design of computers would enable them to perform super-fast computations without heating up.

    The three physicists have already received several awards for their studies: Among other things, Laurens Molenkamp won the Europhysics Prize in 2011. In 2012, he was awarded the Buckley Prize by the American Physical Society.

    The prize

    The Fundamental Physics Prize is awarded by the Fundamental Physics Prize Foundation, a not-for-profit organization founded by Russian entrepreneur and manager Juri Milner. The award is given for "scientific breakthroughs" and research that is able "to communicate the excitement of fundamental physics to the public" as the foundation explains in a written notification. The prize is currently the most lucrative academic prize in the world. In its inaugural year in 2012, it was awarded to nine scientists. These will serve on the selection committee for future prize winners.

    Contact person

    Prof. Dr. Laurens Molenkamp, T +49 (0)931 31-84925, molenkamp@physik.uni-wuerzburg.de

    By Gunnar Bartsch

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