Posted February 21, 2007

Physics' Theodore Burkhardt named Fellow of the American Physical Society

Physics Professor Theodore W. Burkhardt has been named a 2006 fellow of the American Physical Society, the fifth Temple faculty member to be so honored in the past three years.

The APS Fellowship program was created to recognize members who have made advances in knowledge through original research and publication, or have made significant and innovative contributions in the application of physics to science and technology. They may also be recognized for significant contributions to the teaching of physics or for service and participation in the activities of the society.

Each year, no more than one-half of one percent of the then-current membership of the society is recognized by their peers for election to the status of fellow in the APS.

In selecting Burkhardt, the APS cited his “contributions to the theory of phase transitions at surfaces and interfaces, and his contributions to the statistical mechanics of polymers.”

A member of the Temple physics faculty since 1981, Burkhardt’s primary research interest is the area of theoretical statistical physics.

“My work on phase transitions is mainly concerned with the universal behavior at the surfaces and interfaces of materials undergoing phase transition,” Burkhardt said. “The freezing and melting of a liquid are familiar phase transitions, but there are many other examples. For example, a magnet loses its magnetism above a certain temperature, and below a certain temperature, superconducting materials conduct electrical currents without friction.”

By 1960, he added, experiments had revealed that in a wide variety of phase transitions the same "universal" mathematical description seems to apply. The theoretical explanation of this phenomenon came about 10 years later and earned a Nobel Prize for Kenneth G. Wilson of Cornell University.

Burkhardt’s other area of research activity involves polymers, which are long, flexible molecules that in solution constantly change form due to thermal agitation, analogous to the motion of a strand of limp spaghetti in boiling water.

“Another Nobel Prize winner, P.G. de Gennes, showed that in analyzing the statistics of polymers in solution, one can use the same mathematical methods as for phase transitions,” Burkhardt said. “I have studied the theoretical behavior of polymers near planar surfaces or polymers confined in narrow channels. Some of the results have been used in interpreting recent experiments on DNA, the polymer that plays such a prominent role in biology.”

Before coming to Temple, Burkhardt, who earned his bachelor's degree in physics at Vanderbilt University and his master's and doctorate from Stanford University, spent four years as an assistant professor at Lincoln University and worked for 13 years at institutes for basic research in France and Germany.

“Temple had developed a distinguished reputation for research on phase transitions following the addition of Professor Melville S. Green to the physics faculty, as well as some other key appointments beginning in the late 1960s,” he said. “That is one of the main reasons I was attracted to Temple.”

Burkhardt is currently spending six months of a yearlong sabbatical at the Research Center Juelich in Germany, working in a group focused on soft matter and biological physics.

In addition to his research at Temple, Burkhardt has taught 17 different courses, ranging from introductory courses for non-science majors to advanced graduate courses in physics.

He has received the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching while at Lincoln University and the Alexander von Humboldt Research Award for U.S. senior scientists.

Burkhardt is the fifth Temple faculty member in the past three years to be elected a fellow of APS. He joins chemistry chair Robert Levis (2005) and physics Professors Marjatta Lyyra (2005), Rongjia Tao (2004) and Zein-Eddine Meziani (2004). College of Science and Technology Dean Hai Lung-Dai is also a fellow of the APS, having been elected in 1992 while on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania.