Marvin Cohen appointed University Professor by Regents

May 26, 1995

By Brennan Kreller,

Marvin L. Cohen, senior scientist in the Materials Sciences Division and professor of physics at UC Berkeley, received the title "University Professor" from the UC Board of Regents on May 19. University Professor is the highest honor bestowed on a faculty member, recognizing both outstanding scholarship and teaching.

The five-year appointment entails visits to other UC campuses for seminars and meetings with faculty and students. Cohen says he hopes to use the position to foster closer communication among the physics departments of the nine UC campuses.

Cohen joined LBL's science staff in 1965, and his work in solid state theory since then has contributed significantly to the field of materials sciences research. He is credited with predicting what happens to materials under intense pressure, which has helped geologists understand what happens to rocks deep in the Earth. His "pseudopotential" model enabled scientists to predict the properties of never-before-seen materials, and rapidly advanced much new work in solid state theory.

"We can predict the structure, surface properties, how it reflects light, or whether it will be a superconductor, starting from first principles," Cohen says. "We can even predict the existence of materials which have never been seen before."

In 1993, a team of Harvard University scientists confirmed another of Cohen's predictions when they synthesized a carbon nitride compound that is harder than diamond. Cohen also predicted that silicon would change from a semiconductor to a superconducting metal at high pressure, and this was subsequently proven through collaborative research with MSD's Peter Yu.

More recently, Cohen has teamed up with Alex Zettl's group in Materials Sciences to study the superconducting nature of buckyball crystals (see Currents, Aug. 20, 1993). Cohen maintains that the electronic nature of buckyballs (or fullerenes) can be explained by the standard model of superconductivity.

Cohen's recent honors include the Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society for his success in educating the public about the usefulness and beauty of physics. He has been honored with both Guggenheim and Sloan Fellowships, and in 1979 received the Oliver E. Buckley Prize for Solid State Physics from the American Physical Society. The Department of Energy has twice honored his achievements as an outstanding researcher in solid state physics, in 1981 and in 1990.

According to formal surveys of citations, Cohen is the most cited condensed matter theorist of the past 30 years. He has published more than 500 papers plus a textbook on solid state theory. His article, "Harder than Diamonds? Quantum Alchemy and the Design of New Materials," was featured as the cover article in the May/June 1994 issue of The Sciences.

Cohen was born in Montreal, Canada in 1935, and moved to San Francisco with his family when he was 12. He graduated from UC Berkeley in 1957 and went on to the University of Chicago, where he received a Ph.D. in 1964. He has held visiting professorship positions at Cambridge University, University of Paris, University of Hawaii, and at Technion in Haifa, Israel. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.