Journey to new worlds: Electronics of the future and quantum computers

Professor Shoucheng Zhang of Stanford University receives the 2010 Gutenberg Research Award


The Graduate School of Excellence "Materials Science in Mainz" (MAINZ) of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany, honored Professor Shoucheng Zhang of Stanford University, California, USA, with the 2010 Gutenberg Research Award worth €20,000. Zhang received the award for his outstanding research into topological insulators, which were discovered only five years ago. Their properties make them suitable for use in the new electronics field of 'spintronics' and for information processing in quantum computers. In contrast to digital computers, a quantum computer operates on the basis of the special laws of quantum mechanics. Recent studies indicate that certain problems associated with standard data processing systems, such as that of searching in extremely large databases or the reduction of extremely large numbers to their component factors - an aspect that is directly relevant to the security of e-mail transmissions - can be solved much more efficiently with quantum computers than with traditional computers.

"In the person of Professor Shoucheng Zhang, the MAINZ Graduate School has selected an outstanding scientist to receive the Gutenberg Research Award in 2010. His core research fields are also the focal research areas that are being targeted by our young academics, which means that an extremely productive field for cooperation with the MAINZ Graduate School has been opened up," explained Professor Dr. Mechthild Dreyer, Vice President for Study and Teaching at Mainz University. In his laudation on the award winner, Professor Dr. Laurens Molenkamp of the University of Würzburg stated: "The outstanding feature of Professor Zhang’s research is his success in transferring ideas and concepts derived from the field of elementary particle physics to that of solid-state physics – and the rapidness with which his theoretical predictions are confirmed in experiments."

Cooperation between scientists from Mainz and Stanford is already well established. Just one month ago, the renowned journal Nature Materials featured the joint publication "Tunable multifunctional topological insulators in ternary Heusler compounds". As early as last year, Claudia Felser and Shoucheng Zhang realized that by combining the expertise in Mainz in the field of Heusler compounds with the concept of topological insulators materials with new physical effects could be created. The MAINZ Graduate School will also be collaborating with Stanford University and IBM to put on the 'SpinAge 2010' summer school in Watsonville, California in August, organized by Claudia Felser, Shoucheng Zhang, and Stuart Parkin, winner of the Gutenberg Research Award in 2008.

"The exchange will not just be limited to scientists. We also want PhD students from MAINZ, Stanford and IBM to get together and discuss new research fields," explained Professor Zhang, outlining the aims of the international Summer School 2010. "It is precisely this effect that the Gutenberg Research Award is intended to have. It has been designed to be a catalyst for collaboration between award winners and academics at the MAINZ Graduate School," added Professor Dr. Claudia Felser, Director of the Graduate School “Materials Science in Mainz”.

Professor Shoucheng Zhang studied physics at Humboldt University in Berlin and obtained his doctorate in 1987 at the State University of New York. He went on to carry out research at the University of California in Santa Barbara and the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, before being appointed to a professorship at Stanford University in 1993. He is internationally renowned as one of the leading researchers in the field of the physics of condensed matter and has made significant contributions to our knowledge of the quantum Hall effect, high-temperature superconductors, and quantum magnetism. His theoretical work in recent years has opened up the new field of topological insulators and superconductors. His theoretical predictions concerning the properties of topological insulators were recently confirmed in experiments carried out by members of the research work group under Professor Dr. Laurens Molenkamp at Würzburg University. For their exciting discovery, Zhang and Molenkamp will be awarded the prestigious Europhysics Prize of the European Physical Society on 1 September 2010.

The MAINZ Graduate School awards the annual Gutenberg Research Award and the Gutenberg Lecture Award to outstanding scientists in the field of materials science. Candidates for the awards are nominated by academics working at MAINZ, and the winners are selected by the graduate school steering committee. The establishment of the MAINZ Graduate School of Excellence was approved as part of the 2007 German Federal Excellence Initiative. It combines work groups from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, the University of Kaiserslautern, and the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research. Outstanding postgraduate students in the field of natural sciences from Germany and abroad receive an excellent level of training in the field of materials science at the MAINZ Graduate School.