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Copenhagen professor gets highest academic distinction in mathematical physics

Names — Jan Philip Solovej has been awarded the prestigious Henri Poincaré award, putting him on a list of pioneers in his field.

Who is he?

Professor Jan Philip Solovej has been working on mathematical physics for 40 years. And his just reward came at the International Congress on Mathematical Physics’ opening ceremony in Geneva recently, where he received the Henri Poincaré Prize for his efforts in the field.

The prize is considered the highest award in mathematical physics, and Jan Philip Solovej is, of course, excited about it:

»I have been to this congress for 40 years ever since I was a student, and over the years I have always looked up to those who received the award. They are pioneers, and it is something special to have your own name on the same list as them. This is a huge recognition,« says Jan Philip Solovej.

He has been employed as a professor at the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH) since 1997.

It is many years of work and research in mathematical physics that have led to Jan Philip Solovej being given the Henri Poincaré award.

He is happy to talk about his work, even though his research is in advanced mathematics and quantum mechanics, and not many people in the world fully understand the importance of it.

Why am I reading about him now?

Imagine the periodic table continuing well beyond uranium — at present considered the last naturally-occurring element. Then the element with, say, number 3,000, which consists of atoms with 3,000 electrons, will fill out just as much space as the uranium atom.

Atoms’ nuclei will even end up assuming an absolutely fixed value for their size, the higher the number they have in the periodic system. This is what Jan Philip Solovej has proven mathematically.

The result is a part of Jan Philip Solovej’s sustained efforts in mathematical physics within the area known as many-body problems. It has to do with quantum mechanics.

When the Danish physicist Niels Bohr showed how quantum mechanics apply to the hydrogen atom, it was a huge breakthrough. It is impossible, however, to calculate quantum mechanics in larger atoms. And it was, also, impossible when there are many atoms together.

Jan Philip Solovej has developed methods that make it possible to say something about these kinds of complex quantum mechanical systems using mathematical physics.

Where have I heard about this person before?

In 2001 Jan Philip Solovej got an award for being the best lecturer at the University of Copenhagen. The award is called the Harald.

Jan Philip Solovej has also been behind a running club in his research group, QMATH. The running club, many of whom are in the first half of their 20s, run together once a week, and they always take part in the DHL relay fun run in August.

As for his closer academic circle, he has been the centre director at the Villum Centre of Excellence for the Mathematics of Quantum Theory – also known as QMATH – since 2016. He is also the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Mathematical Physics, which is the largest and oldest journal in the field of mathematical physics. It has been published since 1960.

Where can I read more?

If you want more details about Jan Philip Solovej’s research, the Department of Mathematics at the University of Copenhagen has written more about it in the press release here.

Jan Philip Solovej also has his own website, and you can browse the journal where he is editor – but you will probably have to be a bit of a geek for mathematical physics to get something out of it.