Thursday, 15 March 2012

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau will receive the Cliff Shull Prize at ACNS 2012

Prof. Robert Birgeneau, UC Berkeley Chancellor, will receive the Cliff Shull Prize for his research in the field of neutron scattering at the ACNS meeting in June ( The award is given to a leading researcher who has made lifelong contributions to the field of neutron science every two years. This is richly deserved for Prof. Birgeneau considering his extensive and continuing record of high important scientific articles and a remarkable track record of supervising students and post-docs... In this great interview, the chancellor talks about juggling the chancellorship and staying on the cutting edge of physics research: "Q: What work of yours is the Neutron Scattering Society of America recognizing?
It’s actually more of a career award. In trying to understand these exotic materials, it turns out that using beams of neutrons from either accelerators or nuclear reactors is particularly important. I have a longtime investment in the basic science in this field, plus have chaired DOE (Department of Energy) committees that assessed both the field and the facilities that are available nationally and internationally. So, the award also recognizes the leadership that I provided on the administrative side. In addition, the award recognizes my success in graduate student mentoring. Former students of mine are now professors at Harvard, MIT, Yale, UC Santa Barbara, Cambridge and many other leading universities nationally and internationally." ... "Q: What kinds of experiments do you do?
Our goal is to identify materials that have unusually interesting properties, such as high-temperature superconductors. The Shull Prize recognizes my use of neutron beams to probe the properties of these materials at the atomic level. The neutron beam scatters off the atoms collectively and tells us about the electron spins and the nuclear positions.
As I noted before, our aim isn’t for practical devices; it is to understand materials at the most fundamental level. When I began my research program here at Berkeley, we focused on traditional high-temperature superconductors, which are based on two-dimensional sheets of copper oxide. But I had a stroke of luck. In 2007 and 2008, a completely new and unexpected class of materials was discovered based on sheets of iron arsenide – iron plus arsenic. This was a boon for me because, when I switched to studying these materials, which have quite exotic properties, I was really starting up a new research program from scratch at Berkeley. Instead of just continuing old lines of research going back to my MIT days, I had the opportunity to participate in a completely new field.
Now, we’re just working away at trying to characterize the materials and to elucidate the basic properties, so we know how to think about them. This field is at a very early stage of development, which is the most fun for me, my students and my postdocs."

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