Car Awarded 2020 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Chemistry

By C. Todd Reichart
Monday, Jan. 27, 2020

Roberto Car, Professor of Chemistry and the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials (PRISM) and Ralph W. *31 Dornte Professor in Chemistry, has been awarded the 2020 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Chemistry together with his early collaborator, Michele Parrinello, Professor of Computational Science at ETH Zurich.

Roberto Car
Roberto Car, Professor of Chemistry and the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials (PRISM) and Ralph W. *31 Dornte Professor in Chemistry
Photo by C. Todd Reichart

The award citation acknowledges Car and Parrinello for, “inventing an efficient computational method that maps the interactions of large numbers of atoms in motion using quantum mechanics, an approach now used to describe and design diverse chemicals and materials, as well as to understand biological systems.”

Car and Parrinello first joined forces in 1984 to propose a new method for calculating the movement of electrons and their nuclei, which before had to be studied independently. The Car-Parrinello molecular dynamics method became a powerful tool for studying chemical structures; it’s been called a “virtual microscope” for looking at the motion of individual atoms. The technique has had broad applications in physics and chemistry, explaining phenomena such as changes in electrical conductivity of materials in the transition from solid to liquid state. The Car-Parrinello method allows quantum chemists and physicists to understand atomic behavior in far-ranging applications; for example, analyzing the structure of the Earth’s mantle or molecular interactions within cells.

Since its founding in 1824, The Franklin Institute of Philadelphia has honored the legacy of Benjamin Franklin by presenting awards for outstanding achievements in science, engineering, and industry. Fields recognized today include chemistry, civil and mechanical engineering, computer and cognitive science, Earth and environmental science, electrical engineering, life science, and physics. Past laureates include Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, Claude Shannon, Jane Goodall, Nikola Tesla, Stephen Hawking, Edward Lorenz, the Wright Brothers, Bill Gates, and Albert Einstein.

Car and Parinello will receive their medals together with the other 2020 awardees at The Franklin Institute Awards Ceremony to be held in late April 2020.