Robert Birgeneau

Office: 366 Physics North
Main: (510) 664-4103

Job title: 
Arnold and Barbara Silverman Distinguished Professor of Physics, Materials Science and Engineering, and Public Policy, Chancellor Emeritus

Professor Birgeneau received his Ph.D. in Physics from Yale University in 1966 with Professor Werner Wolf. He was on the faculty of Yale for one year and then spent one year at Oxford University. He was at Bell Laboratories from 1968 to 1975 and then went to MIT in September 1975 as Professor of Physics. In 1988 he became head of the department and in 1991 became Dean of Science at MIT. In 2000, he became President of the University of Toronto. In 2004 he became UC Berkeley’s Chancellor and joined the Physics faculty. He concluded his service as Chancellor at the end of May 2013 and is now the Arnold and Barbara Silverman Distinguished Professor of Physics, Materials Science and Engineering, and Public Policy.

Professor Birgeneau co-chaired the Lincoln Project with Mary Sue Coleman, the President Emerita of the University of Michigan. The Lincoln Project is an initiative of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which advocates for the importance of public colleges and universities and devises strategies to increase their funding.

In 2020, Professor Birgeneau chaired a committee for the Department of Energy, Office of Science, mapping out a strategy for DOE for nuclear reactors other than power reactors for the next 50 years. The report "The Scientific Justification for a U.S. Domestic High-Performance Reactor-Based Research Facility" appeared in July 2020 and its recommendations are currently guiding DOE's strategy. More recently, he served on the National Academies Committee on Protecting Technologies for National Security in an Era of Openness and Competition, which makes broad recommendations on the U.S, research enterprise to Congress and the President. The report appeared in 2022.

Selected Awards, Honors, 1980 – Present

  • Oliver E. Buckley Prize for Condensed Matter Physics, APS, 1987
  • Richtmyer Lecturer, AAPT, 1989
  • IUPAP Magnetism Award, 1997
  • APS Centennial Speaker, 1998-1999
  • J.E. Lilienfeld Award, APS, 2000
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1987
  • Fellow, Royal Society of London, 2001
  • Fellow, National Academy of Sciences, 2004
  • Fellow, American Philosophical Society, 2006
  • Founders Award, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2006
  • National Forum of Black Public Administrators’ Achiever in Public Service Award, 2006
  • Carnegie Corporation, 2008 Academic Leadership Award
  • Shinnyo-en Foundation’s 2009 Pathfinders to Peace Prize
  • Clifford G. Shull Prize of the Neutron Scattering Society of America 2012
  • The Karl Taylor Compton Medal for Leadership in Physics, AIP, 2012
  • Centro Legal de La Raza 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Vannevar Bush Award, National Science Board, 2016

Research Interests

Professor Birgeneau's research is primarily concerned with the phases and phase transition behavior of novel states of matter. These include one and two dimensional quantum magnets, highly disordered magnets, lamellar CuO2 high temperature superconductors, Fe pnictide and chalcogenide superconductors, van der Waals magnetic materials, and one-dimensional topological insulators. He uses primarily neutron and x-ray scattering techniques and ARPES to probe these systems. The neutron and x-ray scattering and photoemission experiments are carried out at national facilities located in Berkeley, Stanford, Maryland, Tennessee, Canada, England, Germany and Japan. His group has also implemented state-of-the-art materials growth and characterization facilities at LBL and on campus.

Current Projects

The physics of highly correlated electronic materials is controlled by both quantum effects and many body electron-electron interactions. This means that both the microscopic and macroscopic properties differ dramatically from those which one would deduce using traditional one-electron techniques. The most spectacular manifestation of quantum many body behavior is high temperature superconductivity which is found in a number of doped lamellar CuO2 ceramic materials. We are pursuing a variety of strategies to elucidate the fundamental physics of high temperature superconductors with an emphasis on the interplay between microscopic antiferromagnetic spin fluctuations and the superconductivity. We are also studying related low dimensional magnetic systems in which quantum and/or frustration effects produce behavior which is fundamentally different from that manifested by the equivalent classical system.

Two decades after the discovery of the CuO2 high temperature superconductors, quite unexpectedly, an entirely new class of superconductors based on sheets of FeAs or Fe(Se/Te) has been discovered. The phase diagrams of these new superconducting systems have many similarities to that of the copper oxide superconductors but there also are some essential differences. For example, the copper oxide parent materials are invariably antiferromagnetic Mott insulators whereas for the Fe-based materials the parent materials vary from being antiferromagnetic semimetals to antiferromagnetic narrow band gap semiconductors. In the Fe systems the structural and magnetic transitions are intimately connected to each other whereas in the copper oxides the structural transition is benign. This new field is at the stage where materials discovery, materials fabrication and characterization are playing a critical role. Accordingly, our group is focused on growing large single crystals of Fe pnictide and chalcogenide superconductors across the entire phase diagrams and characterizing the materials using bulk property measurements together with neutron and synchrotron x-ray scattering techniques as well as angular resolved photoemission spectroscopy.

We are currently exploring the effects of compositional disorder on the nematic correlations and on the relationship between the magnetic and nematic electronic correlations in these Fe-based superconducting systems. In particular we are trying to measure the temperature dependences of spin and nematic correlations in the same material, something which has not been done in this field to-date.

Most recently, in collaboration with the Ramesh group we have been synthesizing and studying van der Waals magnetic materials in the general family Fe5GeTe2; these quasi-2D ferromagnetic systems have fascinating magnetic properties with the real possibility of important spintronic applications. In parallel, in collaboration with the Analytis group, we have been studying the magnetic, transport, and current switching properties of intercalated transition metal dichalcogenides such as Fe1/3NbS2 and Co1/3TaS2.

Finally, we are part of a major collaboration involving groups at UT Dallas, Ohio State and Rice exploring the properties of 1D topological insulators. We are primarily carrying out ARPES measurements in these systems in collaboration with Prof. Ming Yi of Rice, using crystals grown by Prof. Bing Lv of UT Dallas.

Selected Recent Publications

S. Wu, Y. Song, Y. He, A. Frano, M. Yi, X. Chen, H. Uchiyama, A. Alatas, A.H. Said, L.R. Wang, T. Wolf, C. Meingast, R.J. Birgeneau.  Short-Range Nematic Fluctuations in Sr1-xNaxFe2As2 Superconductors.  Physical Review Letters 126, 107001 (2021).  DOI:  10.1103/PhysRevLett.126.107001

A. Ruiz, N.P. Breznay, M.Q. Li, I. Rousochatzakis, A. Allen, I. Zinda, V. Nagarajan, G. Lopez, Z. Islam, M.H. Upton, J. Kim, A.H. Said, X.R. Huang, T. Gog, D. Casa, R.J. Birgeneau, J.D. Koralek, J.G. Analytis, N.B. Perkins, A. Frano.  Magnon-spinon dichotomy in the Kitaev hyperhoneycomb beta-Li2IrO3.  Physical Review B 103, 184404 (2021).  DOI:  10.1103/PhysRevB.103.184404.

R. Chen, F.C. Luo, Y.Z Liu, Y. Song, Y. Dong, S. Wu, J.H. Cao, F.Y. Yang, A. N'Diaye, P. Shafer, Y. Liu, S. Lou, J.W. Huang, X. Chen, Z.X. Fang, Q.J. Wang, D.F. Jin, R. Cheng, H.T. Yuan, R.J. Birgeneau, J. Yao.  Tunable room-temperature ferromagnetism in Co-doped two-dimensional van der Waals ZnO.  Nature Communications 12, 3952 (2021).  DOI:    10.1038/s41467-021-24247-w.

J.W. Huang, S. Li, C. Yoon, J. S. Oh, H. Wu, X.Y. Liu, N. Dhale, Y.F. Zhou, Y.C. Guo, Y.C. Zhang, M. Hashimoto, D.H. Lu, J. Denlinger, X.Q. Wang, C.N. Lau, R.J. Birgeneau, F. Zhang, B. Lv, M. Yi.  Room-Temperature Topological Phase Transition in Quasi-One-Dimensional Material Bi4I4.  Physical Review X 11, 031042 (2021).  DOI:  10.1103/PhysRevX.11.031042.

X.K. Teng, L.B. Chen, F. Ye, E. Rosenberg, Z.Y. Liu, J.X. Yin, Y.X. Jiang, J.S. Oh, M.Z. Hasan, K.J. Neubauer, B. Gao, Y.F. Xie, YF, M. Hashimoto, D.H. Lu, C. Jozwiak, A. Bostwick, E. Rotenberg, R.J. Birgeneau, J.H. Chu, M. Yi, P.C. Dai.  Discovery of charge density wave in a kagome lattice antiferromagnet.  Nature 609, 7927 (2022).  DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05034-z. 

X.K. Teng, J.S. Oh, H.X. Tan, L.B. Chen, J.W. Huang, B. Gao, J.X. Yin, J.H. Chu, M. Hashimoto, D.H. Lu, C. Jozwiak, A. Bostwick, E. Rotenberg, G.E. Granroth, B.H. Yan, R.J. Birgeneau, P.C Dai, M. Yi.  Magnetism and charge density wave order in kagome FeGe.  Nature Physics 19, 814 (2023).  DOI:  10.1038/s41567-023-01985-w. 

Classroom Teaching

Prof. Birgeneau currently teaches both a graduate research seminar centered on Quantum Materials and the sophomore undergraduate course, Phys. 7B, Physics for Scientists and Engineers, the latter in partnership with Prof. Alessandra Lanzara. This course typically has about 600 students and they are split into 3 separate sections.  Prof. Lanzara and Birgeneau subtitle this course "Physics as a Human Enterprise.'' This calculus intensive course presents a thorough introduction to both Thermodynamics and Electricity and Magnetism. The novel feature in the teaching is that the students learn important basic physics concepts and, in addition, learn something about the people who discovered those concepts in the first place, thus humanizing the science.  There are many parallels between the challenges that these scientists in the 16th to 19th centuries faced and the challenges that diverse scientists face in the 20th century. This fresh approach is generally well appreciated by the students.