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Leo P. Kadanoff

Leo P. Kadanoff
Born January 14, 1937 (1937-01-14) (age 73)
Nationality United States
Fields Theoretical physics
Institutions University of Chicago
Known for phase transitions
Notable awards Wolf Prize in Physics, 1980

Leo P. Kadanoff (born 14 January 1937) is a professor of physics (emeritus as of 2004) at the University of Chicago and the current President of the American Physical Society (APS). He has contributed to the fields of statistical physics, chaos theory, and theoretical condensed matter physics.

Kadanoff was raised in New York City. He received his undergraduate degree and doctorate in physics from Harvard University.


After a post-doctorate at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, he joined the physics faculty at the University of Illinois in 1965.

Kadanoff's early research focused upon superconductivity. In the late 1960s, he studied the organization of matter in phase transitions. Kadanoff demonstrated that sudden changes in material properties (such as 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 Prize in Physics (1980), the 1989 Boltzmann Medal of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, and the 2006 Lorentz Medal.

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 1982 and it was widely expected that he would share the award with Kenneth G. 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, and the Grande Medaille d'Or of the Academy des Sciences de l'Institut de France.

His textbook with Gordon Baym, Quantum Statistical Mechanics (ISBN 020141046X), is a prominent text in the field and has been widely translated.

With Leo Irakliotis, Kadanoff established the Center for Presentation of Science at the University of Chicago.

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