He Is Known for the Theoretical Model He Developed to Describe How
Materials Are Put Together at the Atomic Level
by Robert Sanders
Berkeley physicist Marvin L. Cohen, one of the world's leading solid state theorists, was appointed a University Professor May 19 by the UC Board of Regents.
The title of University Professor is the highest honor bestowed on a faculty member, recognizing both outstanding scholarship and teaching.
University Professors, appointed for five years, visit other campuses within the system for formal and informal seminars and meetings with faculty and students, as well as for talks directed at more general audiences.
Cohen, 60, a professor of physics and a senior scientist in the Materials Sciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, hopes to use the position to foster closer communication between the physics departments on the nine campuses. Four years ago he and a colleague at UC Santa Barbara initiated a yearly meeting of the two dozen theoretical solid state physicists in the UC system to improve both scientific and professional communication and improve contacts between older and younger faculty.
Cohen, who joined the faculty in 1964, is known widely for the theoretical model he developed to describe how materials are put together on the atomic level.
His "pseudopotential" model has advanced solid state theory rapidly in the past three decades, re-energizing the field because for the first time scientists could predict in detail the properties of never-before-seen materials.
"We can predict the structure, surface properties, how it reflects light, or whether it will be a superconductor, starting from first principles," Cohen said.
"We can even predict the existence of materials which have never been seen before."
Cohen is credited with accurately predicting what happens to materials under intense pressure, which has helped geologists understand what happens to rocks deep in the Earth.
One specific prediction was that silicon would change from a semiconductor to a superconducting metal at high pressure, which was subsequently shown to be the case. Several years ago he also predicted the composition of a material that would be harder than diamond, a prediction confirmed last year.
Cohen has played a leadership role in the physics department and is known as one of the department's best teachers.
Last year he received the Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society in part for his demonstrated abilities and efforts to educate the public about the usefulness and beauty of physics.
He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has been both a Guggenheim Fellow and a Sloan Fellow.