Prof. Józef Spałek – FNP PRIZE LAUREATE 2016
Prof. Józef Spałek of the Institute of Physics at Jagiellonian University has received the Foundation for Polish Science Prize 2016 in the mathematical, physical and engineering sciences for research on strongly correlated electron systems, and in particular, for derivation of the t-J model.
Prof. Józef Spałek (born in 1945 in Upper Silesia) is a physicist and Head of the Department of Condensed Matter Theory and Nanophysics at the Marian Smoluchowski Institute of Physics of Jagiellonian University in Kraków.
Józef Spałek studied theoretical physics at Jagiellonian University. In 1975 he obtained his Ph. D. at AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków, and his Dr. Sci. (habilitation) in 1981 from Jagiellonian University. He held postdoctoral fellowships at the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine in London and at the University of Paris (Orsay and Villetaneuse). In the US, he was a visiting professor at Purdue University and a visiting scholar at Harvard.
In 1993 he was named a full professor of physical sciences at the University of Warsaw. He is working at Jagiellonian University since 1994. He served as a professor and the Head of the Research Line at the Academic Centre for Materials and Nanotechnology located at AGH University of Science and Technology. He also worked at the Institute of Theoretical Physics of the Warsaw University. He has cooperated with numerous European and American research institutions and has served as the thesis advisor for 22 Ph.D. students. In 2015 he published Wstęp do fizyki materii skondensowanej (Introduction to the Condensed Matter Physics)(PWN Publ.), which won a special award for the best scientific and technical book of the year in Poland.
He has received awards from the Minister of Science and Higher Education and the Minister of National Education, the Maria Curie-Skłodowska Award of the Polish Academy of Sciences, awards from the Rectors of the AGH University of Science and Technology and Jagiellonian University, the National Education Commission Medal (2015) and the Prime Minister’s Award (2016). He is a laureate of the MISTRZ/MASTER (2003) and the TEAM (2010) programmes of the Foundation for Polish Science and the winner of a MAESTRO Grant (2012–2017) from the National Science Centre. He is a recipient of the Order of Polonia Restituta and also a foreign member of the Istituto Lombardo Accademia di Scienze e Lettere in Milan.
The Foundation for Polish Science Prize is awarded for Prof. Józef Spałek groundbreaking contribution to the understanding of the interdependence between magnetism, Mott transition and unconventional superconductors in strongly correlated electron systems.
Prof. Spałek is a world-class leader in the field of quantum physics of condensed matter. He took an entirely new look at the developing properties of strongly correlated electrons, particularly the interdependence between magnetism and the motion of electrons. For example, he introduced the concept of a spin-dependent quasiparticle mass and provided the first thermodynamic description of metal-semiconductor transition in the correlated electron systems.
The physics of condensed matter is a research lab for all of physics. The theoretical explanation of these phenomena enables an understanding of their role in practice, e.g., for constructing magnets producing ultra-strong magnetic fields, new types of devices in quantum electronics, and amomg them, in the construction of quantum computers.
Józef Spałek made a distinguished contribution to the world of physics in 1977 when he derived for the first time the so-called t-J model. This is the standard model in the theory of strongly correlated electron systems. The strong correlations between electrons are the basis for the exceptional physical properties of such systems, such as unconventional (high-temperature) superconductivity, as well as of new quantum phases quantum spin liquids.
The t-J model was invented to describe the doped Mott insulators. The quantum materials known as Mott insulators should be metals from the point of view of a standard quantum (band) theory, but the arrangement of atoms (e.g, a relatively large interatomic distance among 3d component elements) causes the electrons to repel here more strongly than usual, and they do not want to move from place (they do not conduct electricity). However, if a certain number of electrons are removed from such an insulator, it begins to conduct current like a metal. Under certain, strictly defined conditions, these electrons begin to travel through crystal in pairs, without any resistance, ignoring the scattering on of vibrating atoms of the lattice and impurities. In this manner, the insulator turns into a high-temperature superconductor. Thanks to the discovery of high-temperature superconductivity in such a doped copper-oxide Mott insulators, the t-J model became one of the central theoretical approaches in the discussion of these materials. Prof. Spałek and his team have recently proposed a new approach to explaining this superconductivity based on this model and an its extension.
In addition, Prof. Spałek has proposed a new method for approaching strongly correlated systems known as EDABI (Exact Diagonalization Ab Initio Approach), which also enables a precise description of nanoscopic systems providing the basis for future nanotechnology devices. He published his most recent work on this topic with his team in 2016 in Scientific Reports (Nature Publication Group).
The results of the theoretical research of Prof. Spałek and his team on high-temperature superconductivity may be useful, among other things, in designing new type of magnets for e.g. medical diagnostic equipment (for example, in 2015 the first computer tomograph operating in the temperature of liquid nitrogen were produced in Italy/USA), Maglev trains, high-power electricity transmission lines, but first and foremost, in quantum electronics and quantum computers.
Prof. Spałek has published over 270 works, including about 15 survey articles, about 60 articles in Physical Review B, and 5 articles in Physical Review Letters—cited in total over 4,000 times.