A Florida State University researcher who has spent three decades investigating the mysteries of particle physics through computer simulations has achieved one of academia's top distinctions. Bernd Berg, the Dirac Professor of Physics at FSU, has been chosen to receive Germany's Humboldt Research Award, given to outstanding academics who are at the peak of their careers.
"I am very happy to be honored in this way by my home country," said Berg, who has dual citizenship in the United States and Germany. "My research that led to this award would not have been possible without the continuous support of FSU, in particular the physics department, which allowed me sufficient time for research away from administrative and teaching duties."
The Humboldt Research Award is presented to outstanding scientists and scholars from all disciplines whose fundamental discoveries, new theories or insights have had a significant impact on their own discipline and who are expected to continue producing cutting-edge achievements in the future. Award winners are invited to spend a period of six to 12 months on academic collaboration with colleagues in their field in Germany. The award is valued at 60,000 euros, or approximately 88,000 U.S. dollars.
"This is a well-deserved honor for Dr. Berg that also brings increased stature and international recognition to our department and university," said Mark Riley, chairman of the FSU Department of Physics.
"This award reflects the outstanding contributions Dr. Berg has made to physics and to computational science," added Max Gunzburger, director of FSU's School of Computational Science, where Berg also serves on the faculty.
Berg's research is within an area of physics known as quantum field theory, which arose in the 20th century as a way of answering some of the most fundamental questions of matter.
For example, "We learn in school that the nucleus of an atom is made up of positively charged particles called protons, and we also learn that positive particles repel each other," Berg said. "So the question is: Why does the nucleus not fall apart?"
Studying the behavior of the smallest particles of matter requires the use of some of the world's most powerful computers. It was one such computer, housed in what was then known as the Supercomputer Computations Research Institute at FSU, that first attracted Berg to the university in the mid-1980s. In the two decades since, he has pioneered the use of computers to perform complex simulations, developing methods that often cross the boundaries between fields of science. For instance, his "multicanonical'' approach is popular in structural biology. Berg's computer-based research also led him to take on a second faculty position within the School of Computational Science.
Berg earned his Ph.D. in 1977 at the Free University of Berlin. He became assistant professor at Hamburg University in 1978, a position he held until 1984. During that time he was awarded a CERN fellowship and spent two years at CERN, the European particle physics lab on the French/Swiss border at Geneva. He became an associate professor at FSU in 1985 and was promoted to full professor in 1988. While he has kept his position at FSU since then, he also has kept close contact with many overseas research institutions through extended stays in Germany, France, Austria and Japan.
Berg has written 150 scientific papers, of which the 46 most well known have more than 3,000 citations. He also recently published a computational physics textbook, "Markov Chain Monte Carlo Simulations and Their Statistical Analysis." Among other honors, Berg was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2004, was awarded the Leibniz Professorship of Leipzig University in 2005, and became the Dirac Professor of Physics at FSU in 2006.
For more information about the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, which distributes the Humboldt Research Award, visit www.humboldt-foundation.de/en/stiftung/stiftung.htm.
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