Bernevig named EPS Europhysics Prize winner for research in condensed matter physics

Written by
Siya Arora for the Office of the Dean for Research
July 3, 2023

B. Andrei Bernevig, professor of physics at Princeton University, has been selected to receive the 2023 EPS Europhysics Prize by the Condensed Matter Division of the European Physical Society. He shares this award with Claudia Felser, professor and director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids in Germany. The two collaborators will receive the award for their contributions to the “classification, prediction and discovery of novel topological quantum materials.” 

The EPS Europhysics Prize recognizes leading professionals in condensed matter physics, an area that covers macroscopic and microscopic physical properties of matter. First awarded in 1975, the prize this year highlights advancements by Bernevig and Felser in a growing field of physics, topology. Topological materials obtain their name from the aspect of mathematics that deals with universal properties of shapes. Bernevig said that the materials have properties that make them useful for promising technologies such as quantum computing and room-temperature superconductivity. 

As experts in the field, Bernevig and Felser have contributed to significant milestones. They established general design guidelines which have led to the prediction of the existence of thousands of new topological compounds. A long-term collaboration between Bernevig, Princeton postdoctoral researchers, and a range of senior scientists at other institutions — including Donostia International Physics Center where Bernevig is a visiting professor, the University of Bilbao, and Ecole Normale Superieure — was also crucial to the decade-long work for which the prize was awarded. This collaboration, funded in part also by a Princeton Global Collaborative Network grant and by European institutions, led to the development of a “periodic table” of compounds based on their topology. 

Bernevig earned his bachelor’s degree in physics, master’s degree in mathematics, and Ph.D. from Stanford University, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Theoretical Physics at Princeton. For Bernevig, the ability to conduct experiments in condensed matter physics is one of the aspects that fascinates him the most. “Basically, in a lot of other fields of physics, you don't have the capacity of doing experiments,” he said. “So condensed matter — more colloquially known as quantum physics and materials — it’s kind of a unique field. It's the only field in physics where you can actually not only passively observe, but also influence, by tuning experimental knobs, what you're doing to the quantum materials.”

In scientific research, collaboration and interdisciplinary approaches are often crucial in leading to great results. Bernevig and Felser’s collaboration began more than seven years ago when they were writing a paper together at Princeton, where Felser was visiting. Since then, they have worked on several projects together, and each brings expertise from their specializations to conducting research. “She’s very active and everything — new ideas — excites her,” Bernevig said of Felser. “It’s something that has counted for a lot in the collaboration.”

Felser studied chemistry and physics at the University of Cologne and obtained her doctorate in physical chemistry. “We are a fantastic team,” said Felser. “Andrei understands the language of chemistry and is able to explain difficult theoretical concepts in a way that makes them seem simple.”

Created in 1968, the European Physical Society aims to promote physics in Europe and represents over 130,000 physicists across 42 national physical societies, European research institutions and individuals from all fields of physics. The EPS Europhysics Prize award ceremony will take place in Milan, Italy, on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, at the 30th General Conference of the EPS Condensed Matter Division.