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A Matter of Equilibrium

Holweck Prize recognizes ICTP condensed matter scientist

Ramin Golestanian
Ramin Golestanian

02/09/2014 - Trieste, Italy

Ramin Golestanian of ICTP's new Quantitative Life Sciences research area has won the 2014 Holweck Medal and Prize, awarded jointly by the British and French Physical Societies. The Prize is one of the most prestigious awards in European physics; previous winners include Nobel Laureates Alfred Kastler and Pierre-Gilles de Gennes.

The prize recognizes Golestanian's pioneering contributions to the development of the new research area of active soft matter. Golestanian is also a professor of theoretical condensed matter physics at the University of Oxford.

At ICTP, Golestanian is lending his expertise to help the centre establish its new research line in quantitative life sciences. This field aims to understand biological processes using data and quantitative analysis methods more familiar to theoretical physicists and mathematicians than biologists. Golestanian, a theoretical physicist by training, says that ICTP's decision to pursue this new initiative is timely. "Biology is obviously a good direction to go in, as it is a very active field," he states.

By bringing together biology and physics, scientists can try to understand biological questions in physical terms. "Originally this field started from the macroscopic scale," Golestanian explains. "People looked at flocks of birds and started putting together statistical physics-type models to study phase transitions that lead to that kind of collective activity." He adds, "In physics we tend to like fluctuations at the small scales, so people started from those ideas and took them down to the molecular scale, and now we talk about collective behavior like bird flocking but in terms of molecules."

In addition to Golestanian's work with ICTP's new research initiative, he has been an active participant in numerous conferences and workshops. In 2012 he delivered a lecture as part of the centre's Colloquium Series; a video recording of the presentation is available.