Professor Neil W. Ashcroft (1938—2021) » The MacDiarmid Institute
Professor Neil W. Ashcroft (1938—2021)

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Professor Neil W. Ashcroft (1938—2021)

6 May, 2022

Cornell researcher and MacDiarmid Institute International Science Advisory Board member helped shape the Institute in the early 2000s.

Highly acclaimed physicist Professor Neil Ashcroft, who passed in 2021, was a great friend of many within the physics community throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, and especially of the MacDiarmid Institute. He was an assiduous member of the Institute’s International Science Advisory Board (ISAB), contributing much to strengthening our governance and research structures. It was at his suggestion that we set up our Science Executive, a key part of our representative, collective decision making.

As Emeritus Investigator Professor Jeff Tallon writes in his obituary for Professor Ashcroft for the Royal Society Te Apārangi website, Professor Ashcroft came with his family to New Zealand after the Second World War and studied mathematics and physics at Victoria University of Wellington (then known as Victoria College of the University of New Zealand) graduating BSc (1958), MSc and DipHons (1960). He then headed overseas to the University of Cambridge to do his PhD, where he investigated the Fermi surface of metals as it relates to their electronic properties, before going on to the University of Chicago and then Cornell University.

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Professor Ashcroft (second from left), with Sir Anthony Leggett, Sir Richard Friend and Sir Paul Callaghan, at AMN5 in 2011

A man of huge intellectual capacity, a man of warm and generous spirit, a man respected and loved around the globe.

PROFESSOR JEFF TALLON Emeritus Investigator The MacDiarmid Institute

Professor Tallon says one of Professor Ashcroft’s most notable contributions was to propose that highly compressed hydrogen would not only become a metal but a room temperature superconductor and this might be the origin of the huge magnetic field of Jupiter. Later, Professor Ashcroft suggested that by using compounds rich in hydrogen (including H2S) the necessary pressures could be lowered to laboratory achievable
levels. Professor Tallon said this drove a decades long quest which culminated in Professor Ashcroft’s prediction of room temperature superconductivity in LaH10 and its subsequent experimental confirmation – albeit still at pressures of the order of 2 million atmospheres.

Professor Tallon says Professor Ashcroft was immensely likeable. “He was always courteous, always kindly, always thoughtful, always wanting to
help”. 

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