International science prize for Würzburg physicist
An international committee headed by Tel Aviv University awards the Raymond and Beverly Sackler International Prize in Physics every two years. The prize is presented to outstanding young scientists under the age of 45 years who have made a unique and groundbreaking contribution at this early stage of their career and are world leaders in their field.
This year, three scientists share the award – one of them is Professor Ronny Thomale (39), who has been the Chair of Theoretical Physics I at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) since October 2016 and is one of the founding members of the Cluster of Excellence ct.qmat – Complexity and Topology in Quantum Matter. He was given the prize for his work on topological electrical circuits – the so-called "topolectric circuits". These circuit networks form the simulation basis for the development of new materials with special topological properties that could revolutionize many technical applications.
The prize was actually supposed to be awarded last year. At that time, however, the award fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic. The official award ceremony took place virtually on Nov. 23, 2021.
In search of new materials
Nearly three years ago, Thomale's team realized topolectric circuits in the laboratory for the first time. With them, topological phenomena can be studied much faster, cheaper and more flexibly than before. In the joint Cluster of Excellence of JMU and TU Dresden ct.qmat, Thomale and other members of the Cluster of Excellence have since done important pioneering work to understand them.
Thomale's research focuses not only on the realization of topological matter in circuits, but also on the theoretical description of strongly correlated electron states. Or put another way: Thomale is trying to predict the behavior of an extremely large number of electrons and develop models for their interactions. "Extremely large" in this case means up to 1023 – a 1 followed by 23 zeros. His goal is to predict new quantum states of matter, identify potential material candidates, and better understand them, supported by experimental studies.
Basis for quantum computers and superconductors
Why is the physicist interested in these states? "Materials with these properties produce amazing phenomena, such as superconductivity or the quantum Hall effect," Thomale says. As topological insulators, they could be the basis for revolutionary quantum chips and novel engineering applications. One perspective development of Thomale's research is therefore, for example, a quantum computer. Such computers are incomparably faster and at the same time more efficient than today's computers.
However, they cannot be realized without quantum materials with their topological properties.
Thomale's work is also intended to contribute to the development of a new generation of more energy-efficient electronics. An essential element of this is the search for a superconductor that already functions at room temperature and then conducts electricity without loss. Current superconductors only exhibit this property at extremely low temperatures or under very high pressures, making them unsuitable for use beyond the laboratory.
A simple but very powerful platform
"The topolectric circuits of Ronny Thomale and his team are a simple but very powerful platform that can be used to simulate the physics of topological quantum materials and, most importantly, to extend it in completely new and application-relevant directions," says Professor Ralph Claessen, holder of the Chair of Experimental Physics IV and Würzburg spokesperson of the Cluster of Excellence ct.qmat. "Their development happened within the framework of our Cluster of Excellence and is a wonderful example of how close collaboration between scientists from different fields can inspire novel research approaches and lead to new insights," Claessen added.
The other awardees this year are Dr. Yuan Cao from Harvard University, USA, and Professor Yiwen Chu from ETH Zurich. Thomale shares the prize money of 100,000 US dollars with them.
The Raymond and Beverly Sackler International Prize
The Raymond and Beverly Sackler International Prize is awarded in several categories. It was established by the US entrepreneur Dr. Raymond Sackler and his wife Beverly. The prize honors outstanding achievements in research in the fields of biophysics, chemistry, and physics.
The Physics Prize is administered by Tel Aviv University through an advisory committee. The coordinators of the 2020 Sackler Prize are Professors Yoram Dagan and Roni Ilan of the School of Physics and Astronomy.
The Sackler Prize is one of the most important prizes for younger scientists in the basic sciences worldwide. Its importance is also reflected in the fact that many of the previous recipients have gone on to receive other major awards during the course of their careers.
Juan Maldacena (winner in 2000), for example, later received the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, which is valued at three million dollars. Leo Kouwenhoven (2002) is one of the leading scientists in the field of topological quantum computing. Andrea Ghez (2004) was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics. Nima Arkani-Hamed (2008) is one of the world's leading high-energy physicists. He was also awarded the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. Andrei Bernevig (2014) is one of the world's leading theoretical solid-state physicists and has also been awarded numerous other prizes since then.
Date & Facts
03 Dec 2021
Ronny Thomale made a unique and groundbreaking contribution to his field early in his career. He has now been honored for it.
© Tobias Ritz/ct.qmat
Contact for jounalists
Cluster of Excellence ct.qmat
The Cluster of Excellence ct.qmat – Complexity and Topology in Quantum Matter is a joint research collaboration by Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg and Technische Universität (TU) Dresden since 2019. More than 270 scientists from 34 countries and four continents perform research on topological quantum materials that reveal surprising phenomena under extreme conditions such as ultra-low temperatures, high pressures, or strong magnetic fields. If it becomes possible to exploit these unusual properties under ambient conditions, they will serve as a foundation for revolutionary quantum chips and new types of technological applications. The Cluster of Excellence is funded within Excellence Strategy of the federal and state governments.