Thursday, 10 May 2018

David Pines, 1924–2018

I have just learnt that the physicist David Pines died last week, aged 93.  He was not a nuclear physicist, and he and I never crossed paths, but his work on quantum many-body physics may just as well have been developed by someone working on nuclear physics as on the correlated electron systems that Pines was working on.

He was one of the key players in the Random Phase Approximation (RPA) which allows one to treat the very complicated system of many particles interacting together under the rules of quantum mechanics as a simpler problem of non-interacting particles.  It is very widely used in nuclear physics.  He also wrote and co-wrote, some very useful textbooks.  I have a couple sitting behind me on my shelf, and they are well-used.  The picture I have included here is a scan from the the back panel of the dust jacket from my copy of his book Quantum Liquids, co-written with Philippe Noizières.  The book dates from 1966, and presumably the picture from around that time.  Certainly no later.  More recent pictures and biographies can be found at the Santa Fe Institute where he latterly worked, and in a more personal reminiscence from Piers Coleman, co-director of the Institute for Complex Matter, which Pines founded.

My closest (albeit non-) encounter with Pines occurred when I was collaborating with Chris Hooley of St Andrew's University.  Chris is a condensed matter physicist, working on strongly-correlated electron systems.  Pines was being invited to St Andrews, perhaps to receive a prize -- I don't remember exactly, but in any case there was to be a formal dinner at which Chris would have to give a speech introducing Pines.  This was to happen shortly after Chris was visiting me in Surrey for some work we were doing together (see here, if interested).  He was wondering what to say in his speech, and I suggested he say something along the lines of "It gives me great pleasure to welcome a physicist whose surname is an anagram of a body part.  I refer, of course, to the spine." 

I expect he didn't use this line, but you never know.