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2019 Breakthrough Prize recipient Charles Kane gives Reimar Lüst Lecture at the MPSD

May 23, 2019

How can the symmetry and topology of a material help us to understand its electronic phases? That was the key question posed by world-renowned physicist Charles Kane in the annual Reimar Lüst lecture, which the MPSD was chosen to host this year.
Prof. Charles Kane Zoom Image
Prof. Charles Kane

Are materials really just either conductors or insulators? Charles Kane argues that they can be both at once. He and his University of Pennsylvania colleague Eugene Mele describe a new class of materials, so-called “topological insulators”, which conduct electricity on the outside but retain their insulating properties on the inside. For their work in this field, Kane and Mele have received the 2019 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

“Topological insulators offer a window into deep questions about the fundamental nature of matter and energy, since they exhibit particle-like excitations similar to the fundamental particles of physics (electrons and photons) but can be controlled in the laboratory in ways that electrons and photons cannot,” states the Breakthrough Prize citation.

Charles Kane’s talk at the MPSD drew a big audience and stimulated much interest and discussion. The MPSD’s Managing Director, Angel Rubio, was particularly pleased that Professor Reimar Lüst himself, the 96-year-old former President of the Max Planck Society, visited the Institute for Charles Kane’s talk.

Prof. Reimar Lüst Zoom Image
Prof. Reimar Lüst

Prof. Lüst described it as “a brilliant speech”. He mentioned his own personal connections to the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL) – the home of the MPSD – and the City of Hamburg in his address.

Angel Rubio said: “It was a great honor to host Charles Kane, one of the world’s leading physicists in materials science and reference in topological materials as well as a friend, and the renowned former Max Planck president Reimar Lüst here at the MPSD for this exciting and unique event!”

Aside from his research on topological insulators, Charles Kane is best known for his work characterizing quantum electronic states of matter, including quantum Hall states, Luttinger Liquids, carbon nanotubes and topological insulators.

He is the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of Pennsylvania, a Fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Zoom Image

Professor Kane’s work on topological insulators has been honored with several awards, including the Oliver Buckley Prize (2012), the P.A.M. Dirac Medal (2012), the Physics Frontiers Prize (2013), the Benjamin Franklin Medal (2015), the 2019 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award (Basic Sciences) and the 2019 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics (both awards received jointly with Eugene Mele).

The Max Planck Society established the Reimar Lüst series in 1998. Every year, an internationally distinguished natural scientist is invited to one of the 84 Max Planck Institutes for a lecture relating to its field of research.

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