MARVEL Distinguished Lecture — Alex Zunger

Oct 09, 2014, from 16:15 until 17:15, EPFL MXF-1

Thursday 9 October 2014, 4:15 pm, EPFL MXF-1, 
Prof. Alex Zunger (University of Colorado, USA), The Inverse Problem in materials theory: Find the system that has a given target property

The first NCCR MARVEL Distinguished Lecture will be given by
Prof. Alex Zunger on 
"The Inverse Problem in materials theory: Find the system that has a given target property" on Thursday 9 October 2014, 4:15 pm, EPFL room MXF-1.

Abstract — The history of material research and condensed matter physics has often proceeded via accidental discovery of materials with interesting physical properties – superconductors, solar absorbers, light-emitting semiconductor, to name a few. Yet, for many applications we know well what type of physical properties we want, except that we do not know a material that has those target properties. The question posed in this talk is: does it make sense to first declare the property you really want, then find the structure and material that has this property. The obvious obstacle is that there are innumerably many possible atomic structures that could, in principle, be made even from a few elements and we do not know which structure would have the desired target property. It turns out that modern atomic-resolution quantum mechanics (i.e., electronic structure theory) can now be combined with biologically-inspired (evolutionary) “Genetic Algorithms” to scan a truly astronomic number of atomic configurations in genomic-like search of the one(s) that have desired, target materials properties. Once the number of configurations with target property is narrowed down to a few, laboratory synthesis becomes viable. I will describe recent progress in this exciting endeavor of “Inverse Design”. Examples will include nanostructures by design, impurity-physics by design, magnetism by design, and the discovery of hitherto missed, new inorganic crystals.

About the speaker — Prof. Alex Zunger’s research field is Condensed Matter Theory of Real Materials, including the development of the basic tools of the so-called “first principles theory of solids”, nanostructures, and renewable energy materials. He is the founding Director of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Basic Energy Sciences (BES) “Center for Inverse Design” and currently its Chief Scientist where he leads a group of scientists advancing the concept and implementation of “Materials by Design” – theory–led experimental realization of materials with pre-assigned “target properties”.

Prof. Zunger received the 2013 Hume-Rothery Award of the TMS (on “First Principles Alloy Theory”), the Inaugural, 2011 Materials Theory Award of the MRS (on “Inverse Design of materials”), the 2010 Tomassoni Physics Prize and the Science Medal of Scola Physica Romana, commemorating the contribution of E. Fermi to physics (on foundational DFT work); the 2009 Johannes Gutenberg award of the University of Mainz (on correlated electron systems); the John Bardeen award of The Material Society (on the theoretical understanding and prediction of spontaneous ordering in alloys ); the Rhaman Award of the American Physical Society (on foundational work on first-principles electronic structure theory of solids). See He has authored more than 600 articles, including over 150 articles in Physical Review Letters and Rapid Communications. According to Google Scholar Citation his papers were cited more than 62,000 times, his h-index exceeds 110 (i.e., more than 110 of his publications were cited each at least 110 times), see

He is the author of the fifth-most-cited paper in the 110-year history of Physical Review (out of more than 350,000 articles published in that journal; see

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