Physicist Harold Hwang wins McGroddy Prize for New Materials
The annual prize recognizes groundbreaking work designing and creating new materials, often atom by atom.
The American Physical Society has selected Harold Hwang, professor of applied physics at the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences and professor of photon science at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, as the winner of its 2024 James C. McGroddy Prize for New Materials. The award recognizes outstanding achievement in the science and application of new materials.
In a letter notifying Hwang of the honor, APS President Robert Rosner noted Hwang’s “pioneering work in oxide interfaces, dilute superconductivity in heterostructures, freestanding oxide membranes, and superconducting nickelates using pulsed laser deposition, as well as for significant early contributions to the physics of bulk transition metal oxides.”
Asked to cut through such a dense definition in lay terms, Hwang likened his research to playing with building blocks and knitting.
“It is the basic joy of turning known elements into something new,” said Hwang, who is also a senior fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy and director of the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences. “In our case, we synthesize and combine complex oxides into new materials that have unprecedented physical properties—like finding new metallic states that live between insulators or developing new superconductors.”
Hwang added that his work is part of a broader nationwide “materials by design” agenda that aims to create materials with useful properties from the atom up.
When asked what this award, presented by his field’s premier professional organization, means to him personally, Hwang demurred and deflected much of the credit to his collaborators, his home institutions, and to the sheer value of perseverance through adversity.
“This award represents the collective effort of so many students, postdocs, collaborators, and mentors, to whom I am deeply grateful,” Hwang said. “I am also grateful to Stanford and SLAC for providing a home to do this work. It is very hard to plan to 'discover' new materials. There is a lot of failure, frustration, and randomness involved. So I am happy to celebrate these serendipitous successes that I have had the good fortune to encounter over the years together with my colleagues.”
The annual McGroddy Prize is named in honor of James C. McGroddy, former director of research at IBM. The prize was established in 1997 and endowed by IBM and the APS Division of Materials Physics.