ETH Zürich │ Lugano, Switzerland │ Università della Svizzera Italiana │ Lugano, Switzerland │ Istituto Italiana di Tecnologia │ Genoa, Italy
With Roberto Car, for inventing an efficient computational method that maps the interactions of large numbers of atoms in motion using quantum mechanics, an approach now used to describe and design diverse chemicals and materials, as well as to understand biological systems.
Comets are named for famous astronomers like Halley and diseases for famous physicians like Parkinson. In computational quantum mechanics, fame is bestowed on methods, and the famous “Car-Parrinello method” is named for Roberto Car and Michele Parrinello. Car, who is today a theoretical chemist at Princeton University, and Parrinello, a computational chemist at ETH Zurich, first joined forces in 1984 to propose a new method for calculating the movement of electrons and their nuclei, which before had to be studied independently. The Car-Parrinello molecular dynamics method became a powerful tool for studying chemical structures; it’s been called a “virtual microscope” for looking at the motion of individual atoms. The technique has had broad applications in physics and chemistry, explaining phenomena such as changes in electrical conductivity of materials in the transition from solid to liquid state. The Car-Parrinello method allows quantum chemists and physicists to understand atomic behavior in far-ranging applications; for example, analyzing the structure of the Earth’s mantle or molecular interactions within cells.