A physics prize endowed by a Yalie in memory of a Yalie has been awarded to a former Cantab.
The American Physical Society announced this week that Deputy Provost for Science and Technology Pierre Hohenberg, a Harvard graduate, will be the recipient of the 2003 Lars Onsager Prize. The prize of $15,000 was endowed by University of Oregon professor Russell Donnelly GRD ’56 and his late wife Marian. The prize, awarded annually since 1997, recognizes lifetime achievement and outstanding research in theoretical statistical physics.
Hohenberg received the honor for his work — conducted at Bell Laboratories — in a wide range of areas in statistical and condensed matter physics. The society cited Hohenberg for contributions to the theory of dynamic scaling close to critical points, the theory of pattern formation in nonequilibrium systems, and density functional theory.
“It shows that there are people who provide recognition for one’s work,” Hohenberg said. “It’s a measure of impact.”
Donnelly said he established the prize in memory of the man he considers one of the greatest mathematical physicists of all time. Donnelly said Onsager, one of his former professors at Yale, is less publicized than scientists like Albert Einstein because Onsager ignored the media and was independently wealthy. Donnelly said he hoped the prize will remind the physics community of Onsager’s work.
“His name was sort of fading away,” Donnelly said.
Alan Chodos, associate executive director of the American Physical Society, said the Onsager Prize is one of the society’s most distinguished prizes, and the list of previous winners is “a very distinguished list of physicists.” The 1999 winner, Chen Yang, is also a Nobel Prize winner.
Chodos was until recently a longtime research physicist at Yale.
Donnelly said the Onsager prize is the highest prize in statistical mechanics. In the past, Hohenberg served on the prize committee himself.
“There was very little doubt he would achieve that himself someday,” Donnelly said.
Although he maintains his allegiance to Harvard, Hohenberg said he enjoys his work at Yale.
“It’s gratifying that this prize is associated with Yale in such a direct way,” Hohenberg said.
Hohenberg said he is especially pleased that the prize will be awarded next year, which marks the centennial of Onsager’s birth. Hohenberg said Yale’s Physics and Chemistry departments are planning a celebration for Nov. 27, 2003, in honor of Onsager’s birthday.
Hohenberg was also the 1990 winner of the Fritz London Memorial Prize, the highest prize awarded for low temperature physics. Donnelly was the recipient of the 2002 award.
Hohenberg said that while his current position at Yale does not allow him time to continue his work in physics, he will probably return to the field at some point.
“I certainly don’t exclude it,” Hohenberg said.