David Pines, a prominent physicist and UC Berkeley alumnus, passed away May 3 in his home at the age of 93.
In an email, physics department chair Wick Haxton said Pines studied as an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley from 1941 to 1944. Haxton added that in 1946, Pines came back to UC Berkeley for a year as a graduate student and that Pines had “fond memories” of the campus.
Pines was one of the leading condensed matter physicists of the second half of 20th century and was also a great convener of people, according to David Campbell, a physics professor at Boston University. He added that the institutions that Pines helped put together include the Center for Advanced Study at the University of Illinois and the Santa Fe Institute, and that he was recently working on a program called Think Like a Scientist to help teach elementary and middle schoolers to use the scientific method.
“I found that he was always putting people together,” said Marvin Cohen, a physics professor at UC Berkeley. “He found the best people possible, and he brought them together in groups. He was a superb organizer.”
Cohen, who knew Pines for about 55 years, said Pines has made many different contributions to physics. He added that Pines mainly focused on the properties of superconductors — metals that allow electricity to flow through them without resistance at low temperatures — such as silicon, which is important in computers.
According to Cohen, Pines spent most of his time traveling around the world to various physics centers. He added that Pines did work with his assistants in France, Denmark and the former Soviet Union and was very influential.
Cohen said Pines worked with some of the best scientists of his generation, such as John Bardeen, the only person to win two Nobel Prizes in physics. Campbell added that as Bardeen’s postdoc, Pines’ work helped Bardeen and two others win a Nobel Prize.
“(Pines) was just unlucky, as only three people can share a Nobel Prize,” Campbell said.
In addition to superconductors, Pines also studied astrophysics and nuclear physics. For example, Pines’ research helped explain the movement of material in dead stars, and Pines’ work with Bardeen led to the 1954 discovery that electrons could actually be attracted to one another if in a crystal of ions, a surprising phenomenon given that particles of the same charge normally repel one another.
According to Cohen, Pines’ latest work was trying to understand new superconductors. He added that although these superconductors are still not well understood, Pines’ students and postdocs will continue his work and legacy.
“He was very creative and very interactive, and I read his papers when I was a graduate student,” Cohen said. “And then I was very happy to meet him and to interact with him over the last 50-some years.”