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NREL'S Zunger Receives Top Scientific Honors

For more information contact:
Gary Schmitz, 303-275-4050
email: Gary Schmitz

Golden, Colo., Nov. 29, 2000 - Alex Zunger, a physicist and research fellow at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, has been named the 2001 recipient of the prestigious Rahman Award by the American Physical Society (APS).

The award from the APS is bestowed once annually to an individual for "outstanding achievement in computational physics research." Zunger will receive the award, the APS said, in recognition of his "pioneering work on the computational basis for first-principles electronic structure theory of solids."

It is the second time in three months that Zunger has received a top honor in physics. The 2001 John Bardeen Award, from The Minerals, Metals and Materials Society, was given to Zunger in August. It acknowledged his theoretical research into the spontaneous ordering of solids, which demonstrates a potential process for creating new and technologically significant materials for use in electronics and photovoltaic systems.

The Rahman honors recognize a separate aspect of Zunger's research endeavors, specifically the development of pioneering theoretical methods for quantum-mechanical computations and predictions of the properties of solids. These methods allow the prediction of structural, optical and electronic properties of solids, through the use of atomic numbers and the laws of quantum physics.

Over the 15-plus years since this work was first published, Zunger's theoretical techniques have become standard tools for predicting properties of solids from "first principles."

"Alex Zunger is broadly recognized by the international community as one of the most innovative and prolific scientists in computational physics," said Northwestern University Physics Professor Arthur Freeman, one of the founders of computational physics. "His tremendous energy, enthusiasm and unusual creative imagination has helped to revolutionize the field."

Zunger has spent more than 20 years at NREL, conducting solid state theory research largely focusing on semiconductor materials and photon energy conversion. He has published at NREL more than 300 papers in refereed scientific journals.

The Institute for Scientific Information has listed Zunger as one of the most-cited physicists worldwide at http://www.sst.nrel.gov/citations.pdf.

The Rahman Award is to be formally presented to Zunger at the 2001 meeting of APS in Boston next June.

"It is very gratifying to have my work honored by such an esteemed organization," Zunger said. "It is my hope that such recognition can help all of us at NREL to continue what here has become a great tradition of scientific accomplishment."

Satyen Deb, director of NREL's Center for Basic Sciences, said: "The Solid State Theory Group at NREL, under the leadership of Alex Zunger, has made major contributions to semiconductor physics. This award reflects that significant achievement."

Research conducted by Zunger has been funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Photovoltaic Program and by DOE's Office of Science, Basic Energy Science, Division of Materials Science. More on his work can be found at http://www.sst.nrel.gov.

Zunger received his doctoral degree from Tel Aviv University in 1976 and completed post-doctoral research at Northwestern University and the University of California Berkeley.

Freeman was optimistic that Zunger's current work may yield impressive results as well. "Zunger does not rest on his laurels," Freeman said. "He is now pioneering new theoretical approach to predict crystal structures with desired optical properties leading to real materials by design.'"

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