Carnegie Mellon University
November 16, 2012

Press Release: Carnegie Mellon's Luc Berger Wins Prestigious Buckley Condensed Matter Prize From American Physical Society

Contact: Jocelyn Duffy / 412-268-9982 /

Luc BergerPITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University Emeritus Professor of Physics Luc Berger has been named a winner of the 2013 Oliver E. Buckley Condensed Matter Prize by the American Physical Society (APS). The prize, endowed in 1952, recognizes and encourages outstanding theoretical or experimental contributions to condensed-matter physics and is awarded for a highly important contribution to the advancement of knowledge in the field.

For Berger and co-winner John Slonczewski, IBM research staff emeritus, that advancement was independently "predicting spin-transfer torque and opening the field of current-induced control over magnetic nanostructures." Berger and Slonczewski's theory — that a spin-polarized current can influence the relative orientation of the magnetic moment, and that applying such a current will cause the orientation of the moments to switch — can be used to flip the active elements in magnetic random access memory (MRAM). This flipping could, in turn, make MRAM devices possible and change the storage industry and the technology it uses. Proponents say that MRAM, which stores data bits using magnetic charges instead of electrical charges, could be used to store greater amounts of data that can be accessed faster while consuming less battery power.

"The Buckley Prize is one of the most prestigious prizes awarded in the field of physics, and Luc is richly deserving of this honor," said Fred Gilman, dean of the Mellon College of Science. "Luc has made groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of the behavior of magnetic materials."

"The work of spin transfer torque by Professor Berger and Dr. Slonczewski has opened a new era for magnetic devices at the nanoscale. In particular, researchers at the Data Storage Systems Center (DSSC) here at Carnegie Mellon have been developing a perpendicular spin torque oscillator, a device based on the spin transfer torque theory, to substantially enhance the storage capacity of hard disk drives," said Jimmy Zhu, the ABB Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the DSSC.

Berger joined the Carnegie Mellon staff on a postdoctoral research fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation in 1960, after earning his bachelor's degree in mathematics and his doctorate in physics from the University of Lausanne. He remained at Carnegie Mellon for the rest of his career, serving first as an instructor, then becoming an assistant professor of physics in 1964 and a full professor in 1974. Since the DSSC's founding in 1983, Berger has been an active faculty member, mainly focusing his work on the spin transfer torque effect. He became a professor emeritus in 1995. Berger is a member of the American Physical Society and the IEEE Magnetics Society, and is an IEEE life member.

Established by Bell Labs and named in memory of one of its influential presidents, the Buckley Prize is the oldest prize of the American Physical Society and perhaps the most prestigious prize in the area of condensed-matter physics. Both Berger and Slonczewski will receive their awards at the APS March meeting in Baltimore.

For more on the prize, including a list of past recipients, visit