Spaldin first woman to win Hamburg Prize for Theoretical Physics

This was published on July 5, 2022

Nicola Spaldin, Professor of Materials Theory at the Department of Materials Science at ETHZ and formerly project leader of NCCR MARVEL's Design & Discovery Project 5, is the first woman to have won the Hamburg Prize for Theoretical Physics. The recognition comes for her groundbreaking work on multiferroics, a new class of materials that could facilitate novel microelectronics applications such as the building of ultra-fast data repositories or supersensitive sensors.

By Carey Sargent, EPFL, NCCR MARVEL

Professor Nicola Spaldin of ETH Zurich is the first woman to win the Hamburg Prize for Theoretical Physics since it was first introduced in 2010.  

"This year, we are honouring Nicola Spaldin, a scientist whose work spanning over 20 years has been the impetus behind global multiferroics research," said Sabine Kunst, Chairwoman of the Executive Board of the Joachim Herz Foundation. "In presenting her with this award, we acknowledge her impressive pioneering achievements, but also her diverse range of activities in the areas of international collaboration and teaching.” 

Multiferroics are materials that can be both permanently magnetised and electrically polarised and are intriguing because these two physical properties almost never co-exist in nature. Spaldin’s theoretical analyses have opened the door to the production of tailor-made ferromagnetic and ferroelectric crystals, an unusual combination that could allow for the building of ultra-fast data repositories and supersensitive sensors.

The versatile materials could also be used in applications such as computers, where they might eliminate the need to physically separate the electrical processing of information in the processor and its magnetic storage on hard drives, ensuring higher processing power and lower power consumption. 

The accolade is linked to prize money  of 137,036 euros, which alludes to Sommerfeld's fine structure constant, a sum that plays an important role in theoretical physics as well as to a research residency in Hamburg.

The full text of the press release from the Joachim Herz Stiftung, which confers the prize along with the the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY, the  Wolfgang Pauli Centre of DESY and Universität Hamburg and the Clusters of Excellence “CUI: Advanced Imaging of Matter” and “Quantum Universe” at Universität Hamburg, can be found here.

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