Ready to take a deep dive into the Top 10 breakthroughs in the Physical Sciences category? This Winners Session will take you from the bottom of the ocean all the way to outer space to explore the most remote living environments. Learn about new ways to observe climate-related changes on Earth and reduce our carbon footprint. Then, take a look into the quantum world to catch a glimpse of highly disruptive innovations that will revolutionise our technologies and materials. Looking back at 100 years of quantum revolutions, Jury Chair Daniel Zajfman is euphoric about the next quantum physics revolution: “Quantum computing will still take a bit of time, but it will solve problems that are unsolvable today. Some of the winners are touching this field – this is very relevant.”


We are delighted to announce the ten winners in the category Physical Sciences:


Breaking the Wall to Room-Temperature Superconductivity
Mikhail Eremets has advanced the field of materials physics and pressure technology and paved the way to room temperature superconductivity at high pressure to produce valuable and unusual materials.


Breaking the Wall of Monitoring Global Water Resources
Frank Flechtner monitors global water resources through specially tailored satellite missions and ultra-precise distance measurements, revolutionising the observation of climate-related changes in the Earth system.


Breaking the Wall of the Deep Sea
Samantha Joye discovers deep ocean environments to find solutions to a number of global grand challenges.


Breaking the Wall to Closed Carbon Cycles
Walter Leitner sees CO₂ as raw material for green chemistry and uses it as a replacement in the production of materials and thereby reducing the carbon footprint.


Breaking the Wall to Practical Quantum Computing
Kristel Michielsen played a key role in Google’s demonstration of quantum supremacy.


Breaking the Wall to Supersolid Matter
Tilman Pfau’s work focuses on atomic, molecular, and optical physics with the aim to control and understand new phenomena in interacting quantum systems.


Breaking the Wall of Quantum Nanophotonics
Arno Rauschenbeutel aims to realise quantum-enabled components for next-generation communication and information technologies, using nanophotonic atom-light interfaces.


Breaking the Wall to Life Beyond Earth
Sara Seager explores life far into the Universe, with her main research goal to find and identify another Earth.


Breaking the Wall of Laser Spectroscopy
Piet O. Schmidt’s breakthrough is in laser spectroscopy of highly charged ions, crucial for applications such as high precision clocks.


Breaking the Wall to Efficient Quantum Computing
Andreas Wallraff’s work focuses on the experimental investigation of quantum effects in superconducting electronic circuits to improve performance.

Mikhail Eremets is currently a Group leader at the High Pressure Chemistry and Physics Group at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany. He is working in the fields of high pressure physics, chemistry and materials science and is known particularly for his research on superconductivity. After completing his PhD in Physics in Moscow in 1978, he worked as a researcher at the Institute for High Pressure Physics at the Russian Academy of Sciences for over 15 years before eventually becoming the director of the department of High Pressure Physics. He then went through stations in Tsukuba, Osaka and Washington D.C. before taking on his current role at the Max Planck Institute in 2001. During his career, Eremets has also completed numerous international stays as a visiting scientist and professor, including in Warsaw, Oxford (UK) and Tokyo.

Eremets is a member of the American Physical Society (APS), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Sigma Xi the Scientific Research Honor Society and the American Geophysical Union. He is the recipient of numerous awards, for instance the James C. McGroddy Prize for New Materials of the American Physical Society (2020), the Bridgman Award (2017) and the Ugo Fano Gold Medal (2015). In 2020, he was named the Falling Walls Breakthrough of the Year in Physical Sciences. In addition, he was mentioned as an author of one of the ten most remarkable papers in 2019 by Nature Magazine and was part of the list of the 10 milestones of 2015 by Physics World Magazine.

Frank Flechtner studied geodesy in Bonn (1981-1987) and graduated in 1999. Between 1988 and 1992, he was a research scientist at the German Geodetic Research Institute in Munich. Since 1992, Frank is employed at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam. In 2013, he became head of the Section „Global Geomonitoring and Gravity Field“ and took over a professorship for “Physical Geodesy” at the Technical University in Berlin. Since 2009, Frank Flechtner is the Co-PI of the US-German satellite mission GRACE. Presently, he is responsible for the German contributions of the NASA-GFZ follow-on mission GRACE-FO.

Samantha Joye is a microbiologist, an educator, and a deep ocean explorer. Joye is a Regents’ Professor and the Athletic Association Professorship in Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia and leader of the Joye Lab. She is an expert in microbial geochemistry, focusing on hydrocarbon and trace gas dynamics and microbial metabolism. Her work bridges the fields of analytical chemistry, microbiology, and geology. After her first submersible dive to the Gulf of Mexico seafloor in 1994, she was hooked on deep ocean exploration and has studied the microbiology of deep sea extreme environments.

Walter Leitner was born in 1963 in Pfarrkirchen, a small town in Bavaria. After receiving his Doctorate at the University of Regensburg and a postdoctoral stay at the University of Oxford, he joined the Max-Planck-Working Group “CO2 Chemistry” at Jena University. He continued research on the use of CO2 as group leader at the MPI für Kohlenforschung and later as Chair of Chemical Technology and Petrochemistry at RWTH Aachen University. Since 2017, he is Director for Molecular Catalysis at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion.

Kristel Michielsen, a computational physicist, received her PhD from the University of Groningen in 1993. Since 2009 she leads the research group Quantum Information Processing (QIP) at the Jülich Supercomputing Centre (JSC) and is Professor QIP at RWTH Aachen University. Kristel Michielsen and her research group have ample experience in performing large-scale simulations of quantum computers and annealers and in benchmarking and studying prototype applications for this new compute technology. Together with Prof. Lippert she is building up the quantum computer user facility JUNIQ at the JSC.

Tilman Pfau received the PhD in the field of atom optics in 1994 at the University of Konstanz. In 2000, he became a full professor and founded a new institute at the University of Stuttgart. His focus is on atomic, molecular, and optical physics with the aim to control, and understand new phenomena in interacting quantum systems. He is co-director of the Center for Integrated Quantum Science and Technology (IQST) Stuttgart/Ulm. He is an elected fellow of the Optical Society, and the American Physical Society. He received the Herbert P. Broida Prize in 2017, the Gentner-Kastler Prize in 2014.

Arno Rauschenbeutel obtained his PhD in the group of S. Haroche at ENS. He was senior scientist at the University of Bonn, full professor at the University of Mainz, and chair for applied quantum physics as well as director of Atominstitut at TU Wien. Since 2018, he holds the chair for fundamentals of optics and photonics at HU Berlin. He received a Marie Curie Excellence Award, a EURYI Award, a Lichtenberg Professorship, an ERC Consolidator Grant, and an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship.

Sara Seager is Professor of Physics, and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her past research is credited with laying the foundation for the field of exoplanet atmospheres, while her current research focuses on exoplanet atmospheres and the future search for signs of life by way of atmospheric biosignature gases. Professor Seager is involved with a number of space-based exoplanet searches including as the Deputy Science Director for the MIT-led NASA mission TESS, as the PI for the on-orbit JPL/MIT CubeSat ASTERIA, and as a lead for Starshade Rendezvous Mission (a space-based mission concept under technology development for direct imaging discovery and characterization of Earth analogs).

Piet Schmidt studied physics at University of Konstanz & Portland State University; 2003: PhD in physics from University of Stuttgart with T. Pfau; 2003-2005: PostDoc with D. Wineland and J. Bergquist at NIST (Boulder); 2005-2008: junior research group leader at the University of Innsbruck with a START award from the Austrian government in the group of R. Blatt; since 2009: full professor at Leibniz University Hannover and Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt in Braunschweig; since 2016: speaker of the CRC1227 DQ-mat; since 2019: co-speaker of the Cluster of Excellence QuantumFrontiers.

Since January 2012 Andreas Wallraff is a Full Professor for Solid State Physics in the Department of Physics at ETH Zurich. His research is focused on the experimental investigation of quantum effects in superconducting electronic circuits for performing fundamental quantum optics experiments and for applications in quantum information processing. His group at ETH Zurich engages in research on micro and nano-electronics, also on hybrid quantum systems combining superconducting electronic circuits with semiconductor quantum dots, making use of fast and sensitive microwave techniques at ultra-low temperatures.

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