Baym selected for the 2021 APS Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research

Siv Schwink for Illinois Physics

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Physics Professor Emeritus and Research Professor Gordon Baym
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Physics Professor Emeritus and Research Professor Gordon Baym
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Physics Professor Emeritus and Research Professor Gordon Baym has been selected to receive the largest research prize of the American Physical Society, the 2021 Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research. This medal recognizes high-level research contributions that advance our knowledge and understanding of the physical universe. The medal comes with a $50,000 monetary award.

Baym is a theoretical physicist who uses quantum statistical mechanics to understand the laws governing matter under the most extreme conditions in the universe. His body of research spans nuclear physics, astrophysics, condensed matter physics, and the history of physics, and over the course of his career he has made a deep impact in each of these fields.

Baym’s current research focuses primarily on neutron stars, in which matter in the interior becomes so highly compressed that ordinary atomic nuclei cease to exist. He is elucidating the properties of quark matter in the deep cores of  neutron stars  and how such matter would affect gravitational waves from cosmic mergers of pairs of neutron stars. In other current research, he incorporates earlier expertise in ultralow temperature physics into searching for the theorized neutron electron dipole moment, as well as into searching for direct evidence of dark matter, which has been observed only indirectly through its gravitational effect on the universe. Lastly, he has been determining how subatomic neutrinos created in the cosmological big bang are modified while making their way through the universe to detectors on Earth.

In his early work, Baym pioneered the application of field theory methods in condensed matter systems. He has maintained a strong interest in this arena and in recent years has made seminal contributions to understanding Bose-Einstein condensates and other unusual states of cold atomic clouds.

In his first years at Illinois, Baym turned his attention to the nuclear physics of neutron stars, determining their general structure from their crusts to their liquid interiors. His studies of the unusual states of matter in the deep interiors of neutron stars—including the states of superfluidity and superconductivity in the interior neutron star, the possible pion condensed state of neutron star matter, and on the physics of quark matter and the quark-gluon plasma—have made a long-lasting mark on the field.

Baym was an early advocate for building the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York to study matter under extreme conditions experimentally, and he played a leadership role in that effort. RHIC's collisions of ultrarelativistic heavy ions created the quark-gluon plasma for the first time on Earth. Baym recently chaired the National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Electron-Ion Collider, a new accelerator extending RHIC, which will be the world’s most powerful electron microscope, capable of exploring the quarks and gluons in the deep interior of atomic nuclei.   

Baym has co-authored two widely used textbooks, Quantum Statistical Mechanics (with L. P. Kadanoff, W.A. Benjamin, Inc., New York, 1962) and Lectures on Quantum Mechanics (W.A. Benjamin, Inc., New York, 1969), and a monograph, Landau Fermi Liquid Theory: Concepts and Applications (with C. J. Pethick, J. Wiley and Sons, New York, 1991).

Baym’s work has been recognized by numerous accolades, including the 2011 Eugene Feenberg Memorial Medal awarded under the auspices of the International Advisory Committee of the International Conferences on Recent Progress in Many-Body Theories; the 2008 Lars Onsager Prize of the APS; the 2002 Hans A. Bethe Prize of the APS; an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship (1965 to 1967), and designation as a University Scholar at Illinois from 1987 to 1990.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and a member of the American Philosophical Society. He was also a Fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and a Senior Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Baym received his bachelor's degree in physics from Cornell University in 1956, his master’s degree in mathematics from Harvard in 1957, and his Ph.D. in physics from Harvard in 1960.  After a postdoctoral appointment at the Institut for Teoretisk Fysik (now the Niels Bohr Institute) in Copenhagen, Denmark, and a year as a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, he joined the faculty at Illinois Physics in 1963. At Illinois, Baym is a Center for Advanced Study Professor of Physics Emeritus, a Fisher Distinguished Professor of Engineering Emeritus, and a member of the newly founded Illinois Center for Advanced Studies of the Universe.

The APS Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research is funded by a generous donation from Jay Jones, entrepreneur. Baym will be invited to speak and receive the Medal at the 2021 APS March or April Meeting.

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