Careers Physics World  

Careers and people

Spotlight on: Jennifer Tour Chayes

A polymath whose career has taken her, in her words, “from biology to physics to computer science to social sciences and back to biomedical sciences”, Jennifer Tour Chayes has never shied away from new challenges. A co-founder of Microsoft Research New England and Microsoft Research New York City, she is currently managing director and distinguished scientist at both institutions, which were designed to bring together computer scientists and social scientists to tackle problems related to network theory and algorithmic game theory. Chayes’ own contributions in these areas (and particularly the study of phase transitions in both mathematical physics and computing) were recently recognized by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, which awarded her its highest honour, the John von Neumann Lecture, in July.

Chayes’ unconventional career path began at Wesleyan University, where she earned undergraduate degrees in both physics and biology, graduating first in her class. After obtaining her PhD in mathematical physics from Princeton University in 1983, she did postdoctoral work at Harvard University and Cornell University before joining the mathematics department at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1987. A decade later, she moved to Microsoft Research, where she co-founded its Theory Group. She continues to work on problems related to self-organized networks and the phase transitions that occur in them, while also serving on advisory boards for various academic and industry organizations.

Movers and shakers

Materials physicist John Colligon of the University of Huddersfield has received the British Vacuum Council’s Senior Prize and John Yarwood Medal.

Superconductivity specialist Herbert Freyhardt of the University of Houston, US, has received a lifetime achievement award from the International Cryogenic Materials Conference in honour of his work on developing type II superconducting materials for practical applications.

The Royal Society has awarded its oldest prize, the Copley Medal, to Peter Higgs for his fundamental contributions to particle physics.

Chennupati Jagadish of the Australian National University in Canberra has won the IEEE Nanotechnology Council’s Pioneer Award for his research on compound semiconductor quantum dot and nanowire growth techniques.

Chuck Kessel of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory has won the 2015 Fusion Technology award.

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific has given its highest honour, the Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal, to Douglas Lin of the University of California, Santa Cruz, US in honour of his groundbreaking work in fields that include exoplanet astronomy and the behaviour of dark matter in dwarf spheroidal galaxies.

Geophysicist Jerry Mitrovica of Harvard University, US, has won the Geological Society of America’s Arthur L Day Medal for his work on modelling (among other phenomena) the deformation of the Earth’s crust and its effects on the planet’s rotational stability.

A member of the teams responsible for developing two of the world’s most commonly used types of microphones has been awarded the Gold Medal of the Acoustical Society of America. Gerhard Sessler, who is now a professor at the Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany, co-invented the electret condenser microphone in 1962 while working at Bell Laboratories. In 1983 he also helped develop a miniaturized version based on micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) technology.