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Laureation Address – Professor Dr Michele Parrinello

Professor Dr Michele Parrinello
Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science

Laureation by Professor Michael Bühl
School of Chemistry
Wednesday 20 June 2012


Vice-Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the Degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, Professor Michele Parrinello.

Michele is one of the leading figures of theoretical chemistry in the world. With a background in solid-state physics, his scientific interests have broadened continuously and are strongly interdisciplinary. Italian by birth, Michele graduated in 1968 in Bologna and rose through the ranks at various Italian universities. It is there where he developed his interest in modelling the properties of condensed matter and materials through an ingenious marriage of two seemingly disparate methods, namely electronic structure calculations and molecular dynamics simulations.

It is hard to overestimate the impact of these kind of simulations in the natural sciences. The ability to model the time-evolution of ensembles of atoms and molecules under realistic conditions can furnish microscopic insights into reactions and processes in condensed phases, with far-reaching applications across the boundaries of physics, chemistry and biochemistry. Molecular dynamics simulations at sophisticated levels allow the proper study of elementary processes involving breaking and formation of chemical bonds and have become increasingly popular in the past two decades. Michele is one of the key persons driving this development. His name is associated with a technique now known as Car-Parrinello molecular dynamics (CPMD), which he co-conceived and implemented in 1985. Since then, he has constantly pushed the limits and expanded the capabilities of this method and has documented its usefulness in numerous application studies. These have contributed profoundly to the understanding of complex chemical reactions, catalysis, materials science, and biomolecules. As a result, Michele is one of the most cited physicists and chemists of our time, and his technique is now widely used in many computational chemistry laboratories around the world, including EaStCHEM researchers in Edinburgh and St Andrews.

As the tiny objects of his study, Michele is constantly moving on, never standing still. In the course of his career, he has been Manager at the IBM Research Laboratory in Zurich, Switzerland, and Director of the renowned Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart, Germany. He is now Professor of Computational Science at the ETH Zurich and the Università della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano, Switzerland.

The ultimate vision of computational chemistry is the virtual laboratory, where the properties of compounds and materials can be reliably predicted, so that eventually only the most promising targets have to be synthesised in the real labs, thus helping to save precious resources. Michele has taken us one big step toward this dream.

Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of his major contribution to theoretical and computational chemistry I invite you to confer on Professor Michele Parrinello the Degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.

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