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Alfred Zawadowski

4 October 2017
(15 April 1936 - 05 August 2017)

The solid-state theorist was a leader in the Hungarian and international physics community.

Alfred Zawadowski (1936-2017)

One of the best known Hungarian physicists of our times, Alfred Zawadowski—or as everybody in the international physics community knew him, Fred—passed away on 5 August 2017 in Budapest, at the age of 81.

Fred was a prominent member of our physics community who played a major role in sustaining research excellence in Central Europe in communist times. Fred was born in 1936 in Budapest. He excelled in mathematics and physics already in his high-school years, and enrolled at the Roland Eötvös University in 1954 as a physics major. As the best student in his class when he got his diploma in 1959, he might have hoped—under normal conditions—to get a position at the university to work on field theory, his favorite subject. The late 1950s were, however, not a normal period in Hungary. After the repression of the revolution in 1956, Fred had to accept a position at the Institute for Technical Physics of the Academy of Sciences to work on semiconductors. It was there that he became interested in the application of field-theoretical methods to solid-state physics problems.

A few years later, when the political climate got milder, he moved to the Central Research Institute for Physics of the Academy, where he got more liberty to choose his research subjects and was allowed to teach modern solid-state physics at Eötvös University. This gave him the opportunity to build up around himself a group of physicists, consisting of both theorists and experimentalists.

Fred had broad research interests. His first breakthrough was the application of the idea of the field theoretical renormalization group to the Kondo problem, much before Wilson’s work. Indeed, throughout his life, Fred was passionately interested in the Kondo problem and returned to it later on several occasions. He studied it in alloys, mesoscopic structures, in the context of molecular electronics, in metallic glasses, and wrote a well-known review paper on the subject with George Grüner.

Fred had many important contributions in the fields of correlated systems, superconductors, and one-dimensional systems, too. In famous work with Grüner and Paul Chaikin, Fred gave a simple description of the dynamics and noise generation in charge-density wave systems. With his work on two-level systems and tunneling centers in metallic glasses, he established a new direction in this field. His review on multichannel Kondo systems, written with Daniel Cox, is a cornerstone reference today.

Fred was part of a lively, international network of fellow physicists. He was welcome everywhere because he was an equal partner in scientific discussions with people like Elihu Abrahams, Phil Anderson, John Bardeen, Patrick Lee, Philippe Nozières, and David Pines, just to name a few. Fred spent several years at various places in the US including Charlottesville (Virginia), Rutgers, UCLA, and Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. In Europe, he had extended stays at the Institut Laue-Langevin in Grenoble, France, and in Munich as the winner of the prestigious Humboldt Award.

One of Fred’s major achievements was not merely a scientific contribution: the creation of a European-level Institute of Physics at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. Although he remained a theorist throughout his life, he always liked to talk to experimentalists and tried to gather theorists and experimentalists around common subjects. He was especially successful in this endeavour, when in the early 1990s he got the opportunity to reorganize completely the Institute of Physics of the Budapest University of Technology. He created a new and by now worldwide-recognized institute with a strong and very successful physics program and PhD school, and with remarkable achievements in the field of statistical and condensed matter physics and optics, both in theory and experiment.

Fred Zawadowski’s demise is a tragic loss to the Hungarian and international physics community. His person will be remembered and his legacy in physics will be preserved.

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