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Honoris causa

Peter Hänggi

Peter Hänggi

Peter Hänggi (Bärschwil, Switzerland, 1950) is a leading expert in the theory and application of stochastic processes in different fields. In an institutional ceremony presided over by Rector Màrius Rubiralta on 17 March 2006 at the Paranymph Hall, the UB awarded Dr Hänggi an honoris causa degree. The award was endorsed and supported Miquel Rubí, chair of the Department of Fundamental Physics and head of the Physics of Complex Systems research centre.

A good part of what is known about physics today is based on classical and quantum phenomena that take place at the mesoscopic scale (between macroscopic and microscopic). Interest in this subject has transcended the boundaries of physics and has reached the areas of chemistry and biology (chemical kinetics, catalysis, molecular motors, active transport in biological membranes, etc). Classical theories are too limited to describe situations beyond the world of physics, giving rise to a search for new theoretical frameworks. Peter Hänggi, professor of theoretical physics at the University of Augsburg (Germany), is an acclaimed representative of a new school of thought in the world of physics – one which strives to establish a common language for describing the mesoscopic phenomena that occur in different systems using the methodology of stochastic process theory.

Peter Hänggi is the third most cited scientist in the German system and appears on the list of highly cited physicists published by the ISI (his articles have received over 14,000 citations to date), which makes him one of the most highly distinguished experts in condensed matter physics.

In 1994 Dr Hänggi proposed the concept of the Brownian motor, a micromachine that works by means of thermal fluctuations. The device pumps microparticles through periodic structures using Brownian motion (the random movement seen in some particles in liquid) as a source of energy. Brownian motors make use of thermal noise to transport in asymmetric periodic potentials and structures for the purpose of generating directed movement. The concept was inspired by molecular motors, which are proteins that transport ‘cargo’ to living cells. The idea of the Brownian motor has led to the development of devices for micropumps and particle separation processes. Hänggi has filed two benchmark patents for devices for particle separation that can separate healthy cells from infected ones. He is also responsible for the first theoretical development in the field of barrier crossing processes in systems with memory.

Dr Hänggi has also made noteworthy contributions to the theory of dissipative dynamics of reactive processes. He was the first to adapt Kramers’ theory to processes with memory and established the bases for the study of non-Markovian systems. The Grote-Hynes-Hänggi-Mojtabai formula has received widespread attention, as it calculates the speed of the process – a result that represents a notable advancement in this field. Hänggi is also responsible for finding the solution to the long-unsolved Kramers turnover problem.

Hänggi has contributed to establishing the bases for understanding and controlling the mechanisms linked to the effects of dissipative tunnelling in the area of dissipative tunnelling process theory and control. His discovery of the coherent destruction of tunnelling opened up a new field of research in molecular physics and in the physics of mesoscopic systems. His studies on the control of activated processes and systems with fluctuating barriers have had particular resonance due to their application in solving different problems in the fields of chemistry and biology.

More recently, Hänggi has closely studied the phenomenon of stochastic resonance, whose application as a means of detecting very weak signals emitted by devices and living organisms has great potential. Specifically, he has studied the constructive role that noise may play in the transmission of signals and its implications in the quantum mechanical transport of matter and information. The apparently paradoxical effect of stochastic resonance suggests that, under certain circumstances, weak signals can be amplified by means of an optimum level of external noise. This phenomenon is of great interest for application in the physics of different disciplines such as chemistry, biology and medicine. The work of Peter Hänggi has made an enormous contribution to our understanding of the role of noise in dissipative systems.

In addition to holding the Nicolás Cabrera Chair of the Autonomous University of Madrid and the Michael Visiting Professorship of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Peter Hänggi has received numerous awards from prestigious international organizations such as the Humboldt Honorary Research Award from the Foundation for Polish Science (2002) and JSPS Award for Eminent Scientists (2003). In 2006 he received honorary degrees from the universities of Katowice (Poland) and Camerino (Italy)


Last update: 2006

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