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David Pines Remembered

It is with great sadness that ICAM reports the death of David Pines, pioneer par excellence of Quantum Many Body Physics and emergence and complexity in condensed matter physics. David passed away last Thursday, 3rd May 2018 in Urbana Champaign, age 93 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.


David Pines, a central figure in understanding condensed matter at the quantum level, also played a driving role in establishing complexity and emergence as an organizing principle in physics. He co-founded both the Santa Fe institute and ICAM, the Institute of Complex Adaptive matter, a multi-campus research program of the University of California.  As its first director, he tirelessly championed its growth, from its early beginnings as an intercampus organization of the University of California, to its current role as a global network of Universities and Institutes in pursuit of the physics of emergence in quantum matter, “dead or alive” as he would fondly say.

ICAM remembers David fondly, and hopes to mark his many achievements and contributions to the scientific community in the coming year.

David led an illustrious life and scientific career.  He grew up in Texas and attended the University of California, Berkeley as an undergraduate after the second world war.  He had planned to continue his Ph. D.  work with Robert Oppenheimer, and when Oppenheimer moved to Princeton to take up the directorship of the Institute for Advanced Study, he enrolled as a graduate student at Princeton University. Oppenheimer was ultimately unable to take David on as graduate student and David went on to work with David Bohm. Their joint work on the quantum theory of the uniform electron gas, the Bohm-Pines theory of the electron fluid is recognized as a foundation of modern electronic condensed matter theory.  In this work they recognized the separation of plasma oscillations from the electronic quasiparticles.  This work also led to the discovery of the Random Phase Approximation to electron gases, an approach that perhaps should be more appropriately named after Bohm and Pines.

While at Princeton, David Pines’ advisor, David Bohm was caught up in the McCarthy era witch hunt against communism, pleading the 5th at the hearings in Washington and in, what was a low point of US academia, losing his tenured job at Princeton, ultimately to leave the USA all together.  During this difficult time, Bohm lived as a lodger in the David and Suzy Pines’ house in Kingston, just outside Princeton.  David often reflected on how things might have turned out differently for his advisor, had he accepted David’s advice on a Washington Lawyer he knew. Always well connected!

In the early 1950s, David Pines moved to the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign (UIUC), which was to become his new home for most of his academic career. Together with Bardeen, in 1954 he derived an effective Hamiltonian for the combined electron and phonon interaction. The Bardeen Pines Hamiltonian was a direct fore-runner of the BCS pairing model. Pines returned to Princeton as an assistant Professor from 1955-1958, years which coincided with the crucial years of the BCS discovery, which under different circumstances, many believe might have contained a “P” in its acronym.  David rejoined UIUC in 1959.

David went onto make major contributions to the development of Many Body Theory and quantum liquids - not only through his own scientific contributions, but also through the various books he wrote on the subject, including “The Many Body Problem”, which brought together a collection of the pioneering early papers on the subject, and “The Theory of Quantum Liquids” (Vol 1 and 2), co-authored with Philippe Nozieres. In the 1970s he worked on superfluidity in Neutron stars, developing a theory for the “glitches” in pulsar motion with Ali Alpar and Philip W. Anderson. After the discovery of high temperature superconductivity in 1987, Pines was a tireless early proponent of the spin-fluctuation mediated theory and d-wave pairing in the cuprate superconductors. More recently, in conjunction with Zachary Fisk and Satoru Nakatsuji, he developed a two-fluid theory of heavy fermion materials.  In “The Middle Way” (1999) co-authored with Robert Laughlin, Branco Stojkovic, Joerg Schmalian and Peter Wolynes, he advocated for a new kind science, spanning quantum, soft and biological physics, unified by the search of emergent behavior.

David Pines will also be remembered for the pioneering role he played in establishing new physics enterprises.  His presence at UIUC helped to cement it as the leading center for condensed matter physics. He was one of the first condensed matter physicists active at the Aspen Center for Physics, where he was vice president from 1968 to 1972. He established the US-USSR Cooperative Program in physics between 1968-1989.  His passion for complexity and emergence led him to cofound both the Santa Fe Institute and the Institute for Complex Adaptive Matter.

He also played a major role in bringing the US and Russian physics communities together.  David and his wife Suzy were frequent visitors to Soviet Russia during the cold war.  David was a close friend of many leading Soviet scientists, including Isaak Khalatnikov and Lev Gor’kov.  He and Suzy were on the trans-Siberian railway in 1980, en route to Moscow for a scientific meeting, when everything was cancelled in response to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. He helped organize several joint US-Soviet scientific meetings, including the last 1988 joint US-USSR condensed matter meeting in Tbilisi, Georgia. With the end of the cold war, David Pines organized a visiting program for Soviet physicists at the University of Urbana, Champaign, which led to several young Soviet physicists starting a new life in US academia.

David will be remembered by all who knew him for his boundless energy and enthusiasm.  He had a zest for life that continued unabated into his 90s. Three years ago, proudly recounting that he had just driven himself up from Santa Fe to Aspen, a distance of nearly 300 miles through mountains, in six hours, he remarked that the great thing about getting old is “you get to drive your age”. 

Piers Coleman

ICAM Co-director.

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