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Hall of Fame

Sir Anthony J. Leggett

Sir Anthony J. Leggett
Sir Anthony J. Leggett

For global contributions to low-temperature physics, which earned him the 2003 Nobel Prize.

Sir Anthony J. “Tony” Leggett is widely recognized as a world leader in the theory of low-temperature physics. In 2003, he received the ultimate honor, earning the Nobel Prize in Physics “for pioneering contributions to the theory of superconductors and superfluids.”

Leggett, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor and Center for Advanced Studies professor, has been a member of the University of Illinois faculty since 1983 and still has a passion for teaching both technical graduate and interdisciplinary undergraduate courses.

Born in London in 1938, Leggett earned a Literae Humaniores degree (classical languages and literature, philosophy, and Greco-Roman history) and credits the philosophy component for helping “shape the way at which I look at the world, and, in particular at the problems of physics.”

Having little interest in the British civil service or pursuing a doctorate in philosophy—the two most common next steps for his major—Leggett decided to change course and pursue a second undergraduate degree in physics.

Following the Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik into orbit in 1957, the West saw a need to grow its knowledge in science in technology. With that as a backdrop, Leggett completed his degree in physics from Merton College, Oxford, and a D. Phil. (PhD) degree in theoretical physics under the supervision of Dirk ter Haar.

He spent 1964 to 1965 as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Illinois under David Pines, John Bardeen, Gordon Baym and Leo Kadanoff, and others, where he became interested in the (at that time conjectural) superfluid phase of liquid and produced his first research on Fermi liquid effects in the superfluid phase.

Following a second post-doctoral experience with Takeo Matsubara in Kyoto, Japan, Leggett joined the faculty at Sussex (UK) in 1967, being promoted to reader in 1971 and professor in 1978 before being offered and accepting a position as MacArthur Chair at Illinois in 1983.

His illustrious career has shaped the theoretical understanding of normal and superfluid helium liquids and other strongly coupled superfluids. He set directions for research in the quantum physics of macroscopic dissipative systems and use of condensed systems to test the foundations of quantum mechanics. His research focuses on cuprate superconductivity, conceptual issues in the foundations of quantum mechanics, superfluidity in highly degenerate atomic gases, low temperature properties of amorphous solids, and topological quantum computation.

Following his Nobel Prize honor, Queen Elizabeth knighted Leggett in 2005 for “services to physics.” Other top honors include the Maxwell Medal and Prize (1975), the Fritz London Memorial Award (1981), the Simon Memorial Prize (1981), the Paul Dirac Medal and Prize (1992), the John Bardeen Prize (1994), the Eugene Feenberg Memorial Medal (1993), and the Wolf Foundation Prize (2003). He was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Degrees

  • B.A. 1st.cl. Lit. Hum. Balliol College, Oxford University 1959
  • B.A. 1st.cl. Physics Merton College, Oxford University 1961
  • D. Phil. Physics Magdalen College, Oxford University 1964