Prof. Dr. Shoucheng Zhang
Chinese Ministry of Education and DAAD Scholarship 1980–1983
Stephen Hawking was his role model for many years: “Even as a child, I admired this brilliant physicist,” explains Professor Shoucheng Zhang, who teaches and researches at Stanford University in California. On 20 March 2013, the condensed matter physicist shared the stage with Hawking in Geneva. The occasion was the awards ceremony of the Fundamental Physics Prize Foundation, a non-profit organisation that honours physicists who have achieved a scientific breakthrough or who have succeeded in opening up a new direction in a field of research. “That was quite an honour,” says Zhang. Together with two colleagues, the Chinese-American scientist received the Fundamental Physics Frontiers Prize 2013, which is endowed with 300,000 dollars, for their outstanding research on topological insulators.
German history, literature and music continue to fascinate me to this day.
Topological insulators are regarded as promising materials for spintronic processors and memory chips, as Zhang elucidates: “I am firmly convinced that topological insulators will supersede silicon as the key material in the computer industry.” The physicist is not bothered by the fact that most people have little understanding of this subject: “Over the years, I have learnt to express myself in generally understandable terms. For instance, topological insulators can be explained using the German autobahn principle: electrons in a computing chip move rather like cars on the autobahn – opposite traffic move only on the other side. This greatly reduces the resistance.” Zhang is one of the leading researchers in the field of condensed matter physics and has made key contributions to the topological insulators, quantum Hall effect, high-temperature superconductors and quantum magnetism. In recent years, he has published more than 220 research findings in renowned journals and received various awards, including the Humboldt Research Prize, the Gutenberg Research Award, the Europhysics Prize, the Oliver Buckley Prize and the Paul Dirac Medal and Prize, in addition to the Physics Frontier Prize mentioned above.
Zhang came to Germany in 1980 on a Chinese Ministry of Education and DAAD scholarship. His scholarship was for five years, but he completed his degree in physics at Berlin’s Freie Universität after just three years: “I worked very hard, but I enjoyed my time a great deal nonetheless. German history, literature and music continue to fascinate me to this day.” While in Berlin, he took advantage of the opportunity to experience Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic live – an experience he found profoundly moving: “Being a student, I couldn’t afford a good seat, so the acoustics were poor. On the other hand, I had the best view of this wonderful conductor.” Zhang still visits Germany regularly to conduct joint research with German colleagues.