2009 Rayleigh medal and prize

Professor Robin Ball

University of Warwick

For his outstanding contributions to the understanding of diverse complex phenomena associated with growth processes and pattern formation.

Robin Ball has made outstanding contributions in discovering the unifying theoretical physics of diverse complex phenomena. He has provided a fundamental understanding of growth processes and pattern formation with applications of his ideas to many areas including fractal aggregates, polymers and protein folding, dynamics of fracture, granular and colloidal materials, river networks and even snowflakes. His work is characterised by excellent physical insight, mathematical physics expertise and close collaboration with mathematicians, computer simulation experts, experimentalists and industrialists.

An internationally leading authority on the physical aspects of fractals and their applications, Ball has produced seminal work on diffusion limited aggregation (DLA) growth models including a key paper with an experimentalist showing that copper electrodeposits demonstrate fractal growth in 3 dimensions. He established the sensitivity of DLA to anisotropy and an accurate theory of its fractal dimension.

In a another paper he proved that the growth associated with ballistic depositions on surfaces is not fractal and was the first to describe its scaling behaviour. His insight into fractal growth also demonstrated the universality of colloid aggregation. A series of papers elucidated how concentrated colloids shear thicken, and how this can be engineered.

Robin Ball is also well known for his work on polymers. He provided the fundamental idea behind the current understanding of how melts of branched entangled molecules relax. His focus on extracting the key physics underlying complexity enabled him to make the connection between river network evolution models and mathematical studies of a class of networks.

He now heads Theoretical Physics and directs the Complexity Science Doctoral Training Centre at the University of Warwick, leading research on statistical physics with emphasis on self-organising systems.