Rutgers professor to receive APS award for principles to compute properties of matter

Work has broad applications in physics, chemistry, materials science, electronics, geology

Rutgers physics professor David Vanderbilt next week receives a major American Physical Society award for developing principles to compute the basic properties of matter.

Vanderbilt's work at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, helps scientists understand and describe the atomic structure of many types of materials by doing straightforward computer calculations. Methods based on his groundbreaking principles complement observations and measurements, helping scientists and engineers modify materials and create new materials not found in nature. His work has broad applications in physics, chemistry, materials science, electronics and geology.

Vanderbilt will receive the 2006 Aneesur Rahman Prize for Computational Physics March 13 at the society's annual March meeting in Baltimore. The prize includes a $5,000 award and the opportunity to deliver an invited lecture during the meeting.

"Computational physics provides a way to develop better materials," Vanderbilt said. "We can quickly test ideas for electronic components, chemical catalysts and other applications by modeling materials and predicting their properties on the computer, as opposed to the tedious process of making and testing samples in the lab."

The society cited Vanderbilt "for his conceptual breakthroughs in his development of the ultrasoft pseudopotential and the modern theory of polarization, and their impact on first-principles investigations of the properties of materials." His development made it feasible to model the electronic structure of materials, such as titanium dioxide and ferroelectric oxides, built from transition metal atoms and light elements such as oxygen.

"While scientists had done earlier work on computer modeling, the types of materials they could study were limited and the process required lots of computing power," said Charles Glashausser, professor and chair of the Rutgers physics department. "David's work simplified the process and made it much more universal. Today his methods are embedded into most computer programs that physicists use, and his paper describing them is among the most frequently cited papers in physics journal articles."

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Among Vanderbilt's current research areas are studies of piezoelectric materials, which produce an electric voltage when stressed or change shape when an electrical voltage is applied to them. These materials include quartz crystal oscillators in electronic watches. Scientists and engineers are developing advanced piezoelectric materials for medical instruments and sensors for homeland security.

Vanderbilt joined Rutgers in 1990 after serving as an associate professor of physics at Harvard and a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in physics at Swarthmore College in 1976 and his doctorate in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1981.


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