WEST LAFAYETTE, IN — A Purdue University professor has won the 2013 Hamburg Prize for Theoretical Physics for his work on "giant" molecules.

Chris Greene, a distinguished professor of physics, won the prize for his theory of an unusual binding mechanism in ultracold quantum gases and the existence of huge Rydberg molecules, electronically excited molecules that behave in unique ways and can exhibit exaggerated sizes. His prediction, published in 2000 with coauthors Alan Dickinson and Hossein Sadeghpour, helped to trigger the experimental discovery of these unusual Rydberg molecules in 2008.

The prize, which is jointly awarded by Joachim Herz Stifung and the Hamburg Centre for Ultrafast Imaging (CUI), includes $53,444 and a research and teaching visit at the University of Hamburg. Greene will receive the award Nov. 14 during the annual CUI-Colloquium on the Science Campus Bahrenfeld in Hamburg.

"In being awarded the four-year-old Hamburg Prize for Theoretical Physics, Chris joins a very elite group of physicists who have made fundamental contributions to our understanding of quantum systems," said Andrew Hirsch, interim head of the Department of Physics at Purdue. "His work in the field of atomic, molecular and optical physics places him at the very forefront of an area of physics that holds both great discovery and application potential."

Rydberg molecules are a specially bound state of molecules made up of two or more atoms, like water. The atoms of these molecules can have unusually long-range interactions and be very far apart, making them "giant" by molecular standards. According to theory, the Rydberg version of a standard ice cube would weigh the same but be so large and airy that it would dwarf a football field.

These molecules are of great research interest because they can be easily manipulated and could provide valuable insight into the properties and dynamics of atomic bonds. Understanding such fundamental physics is essential to developing methods for the control and manipulation of these systems that could lead to a wide variety of applications, Hirsch said.

Professor Klaus Sengstock, spokesperson of the jury and of CUI, said in a statement:

"The whole range of Chris Greene's studies, e.g. in the field of ultracold atom and electron collisions and on the process of molecule binding in an astrophysical context, is pioneering for theoretical physics. We are very much looking forward to his visit at CUI."

The Hamburg Prize was established in 2010 by the cluster of excellence "Frontiers in Quantum Photon Science" at the University of Hamburg, which the Joachim Herz Stiftung supported. Today the prize is awarded jointly by the Joachim Herz Stiftung and the federal cluster of excellence "CUI" at the University of Hamburg.

The Joachim Herz Stiftung promotes education, science and research in the fields of economics and business administration as well as in the natural sciences. The foundation was founded in 2008.