Leo Kadanoff is a professor of physics (emeritus as of 2004) at the University of Chicago. He is widely acknowledged for his contributions to statistical physics, chaos theory, and theoretical condensed matter physics.
Prof. Kadanoff was raised in New York City. He did got both his undergraduate degree and doctorate in Physics from Harvard. After a post-doctorate at the Neils Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, he joined the Physics faculty at the University of Illinois in 1965.
His early research involved studies of superconductivity. In the late 1960s, he studied the organization of matter in "phase transitions", and this research revolutionized the way physicists understand change of phase. In his most important study, Kadanoff showed that sudden changes in material properties (for example, the magnetization of a magnet or the boiling of a fluid) could be understood in terms of scaling and universality. With his collaborators, he showed how all the experimental data then available for the changes, called second order phase transitions, could be understood in terms of these two ideas. These same ideas have now been extended to apply to a broad range of scientific and engineering problems, and have found numerous and important applications in urban planning, computer science, hydrodynamics, biology, applied mathematics and geophysics. In recognition of these achievements, he won the Buckley Prize of the American Physical Society (1977), the Wolf Foundation Prize (1980), and the 1989 Boltzmann Medal of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics.
In 1969 he moved to Brown University. He exploited mathematical analogies between solid state physics and urban growth to shed insights into the latter field, so much so that he contributed substantially to the statewide planning program in Rhode Island. In 1978 he moved to the University of Chicago, where he became the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Distinguished Service Professor of Physics and Mathematics. Much of his work in the second half of his career involved contributions to chaos theory, in both mechanical and fluid systems.
Kadanoff was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983 and it was widely expected that he would share the award with Kenneth Wilson of Ohio State University. To everyone's astonishment (including Wilson's) the award was presented solely to Wilson.
He was one of the recipients of the 1999 National Medal of Science, awarded by President Clinton. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and of the American Philosophical Society as well as being a Fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. During the last decade, he has received the Quantrell Award (for excellence in teaching) from the University of Chicago, the Centennial Medal of Harvard University, the Onsager Prize of the American Physical Society, the Grande Medaille d'Or of the Academy des Sciences de l'Institut de France, and the National Medal of Science (U.S.).
His textbook with Gordon Baym, Quantum Statistical Mechanics, is a classic in the field and has been widely translated.
Recently Leo Kadanoff, with Leo Irakliotis, established the Center for Presentation of Science at the University of Chicago.
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