Imagery for Insight into Material Structure

About Tom

 Thomas A. Witten is a theoretical physicist studying phenomena involving the spontaneous formation of tenuous, intricate, self-focused structures in a variety of condensed matter systems including polymer brushes, complex fluids, particle aggregates and and thin elastic sheets. After receiving his PhD from the University of California in 1971, Tom served at the University of Michigan and Exxon Corporation before joining the Physics Department, University of Chicago in 1989.

       Tom’s approach to problems is usually unique, attacking the questions in invariably different and non-standard perspectives. In this way, he often attains new insights which he then substantiates using more standard methods. His continuous susceptibility to new ideas and intuitive and highly visual approach make him one of the most original theorists in the entire field of condensed matter physics. Amongst his best known contributions are the discovery of diffusion limited aggregation, an explanation of the 'coffee-ring' effect, and theories of adsorbed polymer layers and thin crumpled sheets. Tom is also well known for his much admired textbook, "Structured Fluids: Polymers, Colloids, Surfactants".

       He is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Physical Society, a recipient of the APS 2002 Polymer Physics Prize and a proud recent grandfather.

       Tom is admired for his candor, lucidity and infectious good humor. He unselfishly devotes time to improving the education of younger scientists; colleagues at all levels can attribute key learning experiences to their interactions with Tom. His concern for others, and his highly original attitude to problem solving, both extend well beyond science into other walks of life, where his professional interests in geometry and the patterns of the physical world are reflected in a passion for music.