Anthony James Leggett, 2003

Sir Anthony James Leggett KBE (born March 26, 1938 in Camberwell, London, England), is John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Chair and Center for Advanced Study Professor of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

He is widely recognized as a world leader in the theory of low-temperature physics, and his pioneering work on superfluidity was recognized by the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physics. He has shaped the theoretical understanding of normal and superfluid helium liquids and other strongly coupled superfluids. He set directions for research in the quantum physics of macroscopic dissipative systems and use of condensed systems to test the foundations of quantum mechanics.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Russian Academy of Sciences (foreign member), and is a Fellow of the Royal Society (UK), the American Physical Society, and the American Institute of Physics.

He is an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Physics (UK). He was knighted (KBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in 2004 "for services to physics." He holds dual US/UK citizenship.

His current research focuses on cuprate superconductivity, conceptual issues in the foundations of quantum mechanics, and superfluidity in highly degenerate atomic gases

The International Herald Tribune in an article printed in the 29/12/05 edition, "New tests of Einstein's 'spooky' reality" referred to his Autumn 2005 debate at a conference in Berkeley, California, with fellow Nobel laureate Norman Ramsey of Harvard.

Both debated the worth of attempts to change quantum theory. Leggett thought attempts were justified, Ramsey opposed. Leggett believes quantum mechanics may be incomplete because of the quantum measurement problem.

Upbringing and education

He was born in Camberwell, South London, on the 26th of March, 1938. His father's forebears were village cobblers in a small village in Hampshire, though his father broke with this tradition to become a greengrocer; his father would relate how he used to ride with him to buy vegetables at the Covent Garden market in London. His mother's parents were both of Irish stock; her father had emigrated to England and worked as a clerk in the naval dockyard in Chatham. His maternal grandmother, who survived into her eighties (and my twenties), was sent out to domestic service at the age of twelve, she eventually married his grandfather and raised a large family, then in her late sixties emigrated to Australia to join her daughter and son-in-law, and finally returned to the UK for her last years.

His father and mother were each the first in their families to receive a university education; they met and became engaged while students at the Institute of Education at the University of London, but were unable to get married for some years because his father had to care for his own mother and siblings. His father worked as a secondary-school (high-school) teacher of physics, chemistry and mathematics. His mother also taught secondary-school mathematics for a time, but had to give this up when he was born. He was eventually followed by two sisters, Clare and Judith, and two brothers, Terence and Paul. His parents were both Catholics, so all the siblings were brought up in that faith. Although he ceased to be a practicing Catholic in his early twenties, he still wonders from time to time how far the experience, in childhood and adolescence, of maintaining and defending, sometimes in public and in the face of some ridicule, beliefs and attitudes not shared by the vast majority of his compatriots may have influenced his subsequent attitude to physics and indeed to life in general.

Soon after he was born, his parents bought a house in Upper Norwood, just outside the southern boundary of London proper. However, when he was eighteen months old, war broke out and he was 'evacuated' to Englefield Green, a small village in Surrey on the edge of the great park of Windsor Palace, where he stayed for the duration of the war.

After the end of the war, he returned to the Upper Norwood house and lived there until 1950; his father taught at a school in north-east London and his mother looked after the five children full time. He attended the local Catholic elementary (grade) school, and later, following a successful performance in the "eleven-plus" examination which he took rather earlier than most, transferred to the College of the Sacred Heart in Wimbledon.

He competed for, and obtained, a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, in December 1954. In early October of 1955 he went up to Oxford to take up his scholarship at Balliol, with the intention of reading (majoring in) the degree technically known as Literae Humaniores, and informally as Greats.

He then aimed for postgraduate research in physics. One person who was willing to overlook his unorthodox credentials was Dirk ter Haar, then a reader in theoretical physics and a fellow of Magdalen College; so he signed up for research under his supervision. As with all Haar's students in that period, the tentatively assigned thesis topic was "Some Problems in the Theory of Many-Body Systems," which left a considerable degree of latitude.

Dirk's supervisory style was somewhat unusual. He took a great interest in the personal welfare of his students and their families, and was meticulous in making sure they received adequate support; indeed, in the middle of my second year of research he encouraged Leggett to apply for a Prize Fellowship (junior fellowship) at Magdalen. In the end his thesis work consisted of studies of two somewhat disconnected problems in the general area of liquid helium, one on higher-order phonon interaction processes in superfluid 4He and the other on the properties of dilute solutions of 4He in normal liquid 3He (a system which unfortunately turned out to be much less experimentally accessible than the other side of the phase diagram, dilute solutions of 3He in 4He).


As a postdoc Legett spent the period August 1964 - August 1965 at UIUC, and David Pines and his colleagues (John Bardeen, Gordon Baym, Leo Kadanoff and others) provided a fertile environment.

He then spent a year in the group of Professor Takeo Matsubara at Kyoto University in Japan.

After one more postdoctoral year which he spent in "roving" mode, spending time at Oxford, Harvard and Illinois, in the autumn of 1967 he took up a lectureship at the University of Sussex, where he was to spend the next fifteen years of his career.

In the summer of 1972 he became engaged to Haruko Kinase, at that time an undergraduate student at Sussex, and they married in June 1972.

In the spring of 1982 he accepted an an offer from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign of the MacArthur Chair with which the university had recently been endowed, and after the three of us had been across for a visit. As he had already committed myself to an eight-month stay at Cornell in early 1983, he finally arrived in Urbana in the early fall of that year, and has been there ever since. His wife Haruko eventually obtained a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of Illinois, and is currently doing research on the hospice system; and his daughter Asako has graduated, also from UIUC, with a joint major in geography and chemistry. His own research interests shifted away from superfluid 3He since around 1980; he worked inter alia on the low-temperature properties of glasses, high-temperature superconductivity, the BEC atomic gases and above all on the theory of experiments to test whether the formation of quantum mechanics will continue to describe the physical world as we push it up from the atomic level towards that of everyday life.

Born March 26, 1938
Camberwell, London, England
Residence USA
Nationality dual UK-US
Field Physicist
Institution University of Sussex, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Alma Mater Oxford University
Doctoral Advisor Dirk ter Haar
Known for Foundations of quantum mechanics, superfluidity
Societies National Academy of Sciences,American Philosophical Society, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Russian Academy of Sciences, Fellow of the Royal Society, American Physical Society, American Institute of Physics, Life Fellow of the Institute of Physics

Prizes Nobel Prize in Physics (2003)
Spouse Haruko Kinase
Children Asako (1978)
Religion Lapsed Catholic


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