Neil Ashcroft, planet-renowned theoretical physicist, dies at 82

Neil W. Ashcroft, the Horace White Professor of Physics Emeritus in the College of Arts and Sciences and a leading theorist in condensed make any difference physics, died March 15 in Ithaca. He was 82.

In the late 1960s and to start with fifty percent of the 1970s, he collaborated with David Mermin, professor emeritus of physics (A&S), to generate “Solid Condition Physics,” which became the gold normal of textbooks for their self-discipline.

Neil W. Ashcroft, the Horace White Professor of Physics Emeritus.

“For the era of physicists reared all through the very last quarter of the 20th century, Neil Ashcroft and David Mermin’s textbook was the go-to bible of the subject,” reported Sol Gruner, the John L. Wetherill Professor of Physics Emeritus (A&S). “The textbook was so ubiquitous that the title, “Solid Condition Physics,” was rarely mentioned. Alternatively, individuals stated basically ‘Check it out in Ashcroft and Mermin.’”

Ashcroft was born Nov. 27, 1938 in London. He acquired his bachelor of science in 1958 and his grasp of science in 1960, each from the College of New Zealand, and acquired his Ph.D. from Cambridge University in 1964.

In 1965, he came to Cornell as a investigate associate and was appointed to the faculty as assistant professor of physics the adhering to year. He grew to become affiliate professor of physics in 1969 and professor of physics in 1975. He was named Horace White Professor in Physics in 1990. 

Around the several years, Ashcroft’s study interests encompassed density practical theory, make a difference beneath severe pressures, strongly correlated a lot of-particle programs and significant-temperature superconductivity, superlattice hetero-constructions, metallic hydrogen and its alloys, and metal-insulator and phase transitions.

He officially retired in 2006, but, in an unpredicted twist, he quickly began a new burst of scientific action. Just after a serendipitous conference with Roald Hoffmann, the Frank H.T. Rhodes Professor in Humane Letters Emeritus (A&S) and 1981 Nobel laureate in chemistry, Ashcroft joined Hoffmann’s investigate group. Their interdisciplinary collaboration was so productive it amounted to a investigation renaissance for Ashcroft.

“In 47 joint scientific papers around 15 decades and in many team meetings, I and my coworkers discovered from Neil Ashcroft. And so did the group – superconductivity in large hydrides, a field advised by Neil, has just blossomed,” Hoffman explained. “Neil was clever and perceptive, fascinated by the border among chemistry and physics. Our collaborators and I valued his actual physical perception and keep in mind his gentle wit. And miss out on him.”

Ashcroft not only helped condition the fundamentals of his industry. He also had a knack for anticipating its long run discoveries. For example, in 1968 he proposed that hydrogen – which is a gas at ambient conditions – could become metallic, and a substantial-temperature superconductor, at superior pressures. Then, 28 a long time later on, experimentalists manufactured partial proof of Ashcroft’s model – hydrogen molecules did certainly metallize. When his research group predicted in the 1990s that compressed lithium would transition from a really symmetric structure, its atoms intently packed, to a a lot less symmetrical framework with some electrons off the lithium nuclei, that dangerous prediction was swiftly verified.

And just in the earlier six several years, Ashcroft’s recommendation, initially manufactured two a long time ago, that high-temperature superconductivity could be uncovered in large-stress alloys of other hydrogen-rich things was recognized when various investigate groups accomplished report significant temperatures for superconducting LaH10 and SH3.

But Ashcroft’s most tangible legacy could have been “Solid State Physics.” On its publication in 1976, the reserve was immediately translated into Polish, Russian and Japanese, and afterwards designed its way into German, French and Portuguese, as very well as physics lecture rooms all-around the environment.

When Physics Right now published an article in 2013 that equally praised the e book and questioned whether or not it desired to be up to date to preserve rate with scientific improvements, Ashcroft wrote in response, “…laudatory feedback about our e-book are generous in the severe. David and I are equally grateful, and together we hope that the getting old method, of ourselves and of our textbook, will not unduly accelerate.”

“Neil Ashcroft was a colleague and close pal for around 50 several years. The happiest a long time of my specialist daily life were the 6 decades Neil and I expended crafting our e-book ‘Solid Point out Physics,’” Mermin reported. “Neil had a great sense of humor. The fun we were possessing permeates the reserve. It’s even now flourishing 45 several years soon after it arrived out, nevertheless in its original edition. Contrary to pretty much all technical textbooks, I think ours entertains the reader in a lot the exact way that Neil and I entertained each and every other while writing it.

“Neil was an internationally famous reliable-point out physicist,” Mermin reported. “He is, for illustration, just one of the handful of Cornell college associates to have been elected to the Russian Academy of Sciences.”

Ashcroft also performed a critical part in launching the Cornell Higher Electricity Synchrotron Source (CHESS), serving as its co-principal investigator and affiliate director from 1978 to 1989, and its deputy director from 1990-97, in addition to overseeing its proposal assessment panel and plan advisory board. He was also director of the Laboratory of Atomic and Good Point out Physics from 1979 to 1984 and the Cornell Middle for Components Analysis from 1997 to 2000.

Between his numerous honors, Ashcroft was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Progression of Science, a fellow of the American Actual physical Society, an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, a Guggenheim memorial fellow, and winner of the 2003 Bridgman Award in substantial pressure physics, awarded by the Intercontinental Affiliation for the Improvement of Superior Strain Science and Know-how.

He is survived by his wife of 60 yrs, Judith, a longtime member of the Cornell community, and his sons Robert ’85 and Ian ’88.