Soft Matter Physicist to Receive American Physical Society’s Highest Award

COLLEGE PARK, MD, Dec. 13, 2022 — The American Physical Society (APS) has selected condensed matter physicist Sidney Nagel of the University of Chicago to receive the 2023 APS Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research. Nagel will be recognized for “incisive experiments, numerical simulations and concepts that have expanded and unified soft matter physics” at a ceremony during the APS Annual Leadership Meeting in January 2023.

“Sid Nagel's accomplishments have been key to establishing soft condensed matter physics as one of the most fascinating and lively subfields in modern physics,” said APS President-Elect Robert Rosner, who chaired this year’s selection committee. “This prize recognizes both his inventiveness in posing deep and challenging questions and his experimental chops in devising clever experiments that answer these questions.”

Each year, the APS Medal honors a physicist who has advanced our knowledge and understanding of the physical universe at the highest level. The Medal is the highest honor the Society awards to researchers and is intended to celebrate scientific inquiry and the pursuit of knowledge.

“We look forward to presenting Sid with the APS Medal next month,” said APS CEO Jonathan Bagger. “We are delighted to recognize his many vital contributions to understanding the physics of disorder and out-of-equilibrium systems.”

Nagel has studied the physics of many macroscopic phenomena, like the movements of sand, the universal shapes that fluids develop as they break apart or coalesce and the stains liquids leave behind when they evaporate. These subjects lead to insights about the nature of disorder and how matter behaves when not at equilibrium, which are relevant for a broad range of physical phenomena.

“The same concepts, which we can view concretely in these systems, raise their head in many other places,” Nagel said.

Among other accomplishments, Nagel has helped build researchers’ understanding of jamming — situations where a disordered collection of grains becomes rigid and stops flowing.

“We tend to dismiss disorder as just being messy, but in so many cases in soft matter science, the disorder exists within rules that somehow mysteriously make themselves apparent to our mind’s eye – so there is order within the disorder,” said Nagel. “This is beautiful to celebrate.”

Nagel earned his bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in 1969 and his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1975. He is now the Stein-Freiler Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Physics and the James Franck and Enrico Fermi Institutes at the University of Chicago.

The Medal includes a $50,000 prize, a certificate citing the recipient’s contribution and an invited talk at an APS March or April Meeting. The prize is funded by a generous endowment from entrepreneur Jay Jones.

Additional Information

Sidney Nagel Delights in Disorder, APS News January 2023 article

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