2016 Thomson Medal and prize of the Institute of Physics

Professor Jeremy Hutson, Durham University, for his pioneering work on the theory of ultracold molecules, which has provided fundamental insights into ultracold atomic and molecular collisions and which underpins recent experiments to create molecular quantum gases.

Picture of Jeremy Hutson

Professor Jeremy Hutson has changed the way we think about intermolecular forces and pioneered the theory of ultracold molecules and their collisions. His ideas have enabled exciting breakthroughs in experimental groups around the world.

In a series of elegant papers, he proposed ways in which the exquisite quantum control that is possible for atoms can be extended to molecules. He has made major contributions to both molecule formation in ultracold atomic gases and molecule cooling in traps.

In molecule formation, Hutson has developed new theoretical techniques to model magnetoassociation and to understand the properties of the molecules formed, which have been crucial in recent experiments to create molecular quantum gases and explore their properties. He carried out the first quantum dynamics calculations on the chemical reactions of alkali-metal dimers. He has proposed a method to extend molecule formation beyond the alkali-metal dimers, which is being pursued by several experimental groups, and has been instrumental in discovering an unexpected new form of universality in the physics of Efimov states of atomic trimers.

In molecule cooling, he has developed new methods to handle molecular collisions in electric and magnetic fields. He has discovered surprising new physical effects, such as large increases in inelastic cross sections driven by electric fields and remarkable reductions in inelasticity near some Feshbach resonances. He has proposed sympathetic cooling as a way to bring cold molecules into the ultracold regime, and has highlighted several systems where it is likely to be successful.

Before moving into the field of cold and ultracold molecules, Hutson made seminal contributions to the theory of Van der Waals complexes and clusters, showing that their spectra can be used to extract intermolecular force fields of unprecedented accuracy. Thirteen of his papers from this period have more than 100 citations. It is largely through Hutson’s work that intermolecular potentials are now expected to provide quantitative explanations of experimental data.

He made the first predictions of the excited bending levels of Van der Waals complexes, and their subsequent observation proved crucial in determining intermolecular forces. His pioneering studies of complexes containing non-linear molecules, open-shell molecules, and open-shell atoms laid the foundations for our understanding of their energy-level patterns. He was the first to recognise that electrostatic forces would produce long-range attractive wells for most chemical reactions involving open-shell atoms.

Hutson is a fellow of the IOP and was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society in 2010. He was the winner of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Computational Chemistry Award in 2007 and their Tilden Prize in 2011.

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