A rising star in the field of quantum many-body physics, Adilet Imambekov died on 18 July 2012 at age 30 while climbing Khan Tengri mountain in Kazakhstan. Despite his youth, Adilet made key contributions to the field of strongly correlated systems; in particular, he devised a new conceptual framework for describing universal dynamics of one-dimensional quantum systems. Adilet’s work was distinguished by a combination of deep physical insight, mathematical rigor, and elegance.

Born on 2 September 1981, Adilet grew up in Zhambyl (now Taraz) and Almaty, Kazakhstan. His extraordinary abilities were evident by age 14, when he won national physics and mathematics competitions, then attended one of the former Soviet Union’s best science high schools, Kolmogorov Lyceum in Moscow. Adilet became the first student in 14 years to graduate with highest honors. As a physics Olympiads competitor, he took first-place prizes in the 1997 and 1998 National Russian Olympiads and received a gold medal at the 1998 International Physics Olympiad.

Adilet continued his studies at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. In his junior year, he passed several Landau Theoretical Minimum exams. He then received his basic theoretical physics training as a member of the Laudau Institute’s theoretical group.

After going to Harvard University in 2002 for his PhD studies, Adilet joined the group of one of us (Demler) and concentrated on many-body physics of cold atoms. His first work, which still serves as a guide for new experiments, predicted numerous exotic states for bosons with nonzero spin in an optical lattice.

With his unique ability to fuse ideas from solid-state physics, atomic physics, and mathematics, Adilet was able to make progress in difficult problems when other attempts failed. His approach to the problem of interference between low-dimensional Bose condensates provides a good example. Adilet came up with a beautiful mapping of the problem at hand onto a seemingly unrelated one of statistical properties of random surfaces. His work became instrumental for the interpretation of subsequent experiments in which a new universal dynamical phenomenon, prethermalization, was demonstrated.

Adilet uniquely combined mathematical intuition with deep insight into the physics of quantum phenomena. He went to Yale University to work with another of us (Glazman) as a postdoc in 2007 and became interested in the dynamics of 1D quantum fluids, conventionally described by the widely known Luttinger liquid theory. In simplifying the problem, the standard theory artificially imposes symmetry that distorts a fluid’s true dynamic response functions; Adilet’s contributions were essential to building a theory free of such artificial assumptions. He combined the existing perturbative results with his own analysis of an integrable Lieb–Liniger model and foresaw the emerging universal dynamic properties of a fluid.

Less than a year later, Adilet built what he called the nonlinear Luttinger liquid theory, which universally describes low-energy excitations of a fluid made of particles with a generic, nonlinear dispersion relation. The theory’s beauty is in its simplicity and versatility. It answered the existing questions about the dynamic responses while also providing a platform for tackling other, more difficult issues. While Adilet was making big strides toward developing a theory of quantum quenches and a kinetic theory of nonlinear Luttinger liquid, he joined Rice University as a junior faculty member in 2009.

Remarkably, Adilet’s demeanor did not change despite the challenges of being a tenure-track faculty member. He remained warm and open. He quickly forged collaborations with his Rice colleagues and ventured into, for him, a new area of solid-state optics.

Adilet pursued his interests with utmost commitment. For example, when he began graduate school at Harvard, he became fascinated with climbing, mountaineering, and endurance sports. He started training nearly every day, which included running along the Charles River and rock climbing in New Hampshire when possible. Within a few years, he conquered two challenging mountains in Alaska and China and became rather well known among climbers. He also twice qualified for the Boston Marathon, and in May 2012 he won his only Ironman triathlon competition.

Each of us cherished every opportunity to talk to or collaborate with Adilet. He had a wonderful sense of humor and often brightened even the most challenging and confusing physics topic with an unexpected joke.

Adilet’s commitment and love of life inspired many of his friends to pursue their own dreams. He showed by example that little is impossible if you are dedicated. Before going on his last trip to Kazakhstan, Adilet was talking to one of us about how one should attempt to get the most valuable result in the most intellectually challenging problem rather than concentrating on getting every paper published: “There is simply too little time,” he said. Indeed, Adilet was given very little time. But it was enough for him to make long-lasting contributions to physics and to deeply affect the lives of those who were fortunate enough to know him.

Adilet Imambekov