Professor of Theoretical Physics Mikhail Katsnelson receives Spinoza Prize 2013

10/06/2013 Radboud University

Professor Katsnelson has been awarded the Spinoza Prize 2013. His publications on graphene alone have been cited more than 12,000 times.

The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) announced today that Professor Katsnelson will be awarded the Spinoza Prize 2013. According to his colleagues, the prize is richly deserved: ‘He stands out above all other theoreticians in solid state physics.’ Katsnelson is Professor of Theoretical Physics at the Institute for Molecules and Materials (IMM) of Radboud University Nijmegen. He is one of the most frequently cited authors in his field. His publications on graphene alone have been cited more than 12,000 times.

The Spinoza Prize is the highest scientific award in the Netherlands. NWO gives the prize of 2.5 million euros to Dutch researchers who rank among the best in the world. 

Katsnelson (Magnitogorsk, 1957) is one of the most cited and best-known theoreticians in solid state physics worldwide. He is the leading theoretician on graphene and has co-authored the most important publications on this two-dimensional form of carbon, for which the discoverers, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, received the Nobel Prize in 2010. In his Nobel Lecture, Andre Geim said, ‘Our rapid progress would be impossible without Misha Katsnelson, who provided us with all the theoretical help an experimentalist can only dream of.’

Authoritative in many areas

But Misha Katsnelson has not limited himself to a single subject. He has done important work in areas such as the theory of magnetism, exchange interactions between electrons and spin dynamics. According to Theo Rasing, Professor of Physics, it is extraordinary that Katsnelson has made important contributions to so many areas of physics. ‘His early work on magnetism has become standard in the field, and his work on strongly correlated electrons is of great importance as well.’ Rasing received the Spinoza prize 2008 for his research into the effect of light on magnetism. He used the award to fund research into the theoretical foundations of his experiments. Katsnelson became co-supervisor of the PhD project. This was a successful collaboration: ‘Misha’s insights and models in spin dynamics brought our work to a higher level,’ explains Rasing.

Adventurous, fundamental questions

Katsnelson wants to use the Spinoza Prize for an ‘adventurous, but responsible’ research agenda. ‘I want to tackle a number of fundamental problems in physics. Funding for this type of research is usually impossible to find, but the Spinoza Prize gives you the freedom to do this. Whether or not it will succeed is the question. Of course, I won't assign a PhD student to a project that is too risky; these are the careers of young people for which I am responsible. But with a 70% chance of success, I will take the risk.’

Indebted to Soviet science

Katsnelson was educated in the Soviet Union, where he was given very broad training in physics. He was a protégé of the renowned physicist Sergej Vodnovsky, who scanned the international physics publications every week and assigned a reading list to his student. This is why Katsnelson has so much knowledge about so many areas, a characteristic that turned out to be extremely useful when graphene was discovered. ‘Physicists usually focus on a single method, which they apply to various materials. Graphene changed that. This material has so many remarkable properties – electronic, magnetic, optical, magnetic etc. – that a multidisciplinary approach was required. At that point, my broad expertise became a major advantage.’


The collaboration between Geim, Novoselov and Katsnelson began soon after the discovery of graphene. In 2005, Katsnelson co-authored the second paper on graphene and in 2012, he published the first monograph on the material: Graphene: Carbon in two dimensions. Kostya Novoselov says that this book is a brilliant overview of current research ‘and provides a research agenda for the next few years.’ Geim says it is not an exaggeration to call it the Graphene Bible.

Katsnelson made correct predictions about the properties of graphene before its discovery. He predicted Klein tunnelling and the effect of stretching graphene, both of which were experimentally confirmed – the highest honour for a theoretician.

His knowledge in many areas is the basis of his strong international network, for which he also receives a lot of recognition, says Stan Gielen, Dean of the Nijmegen Faculty of Science. ‘The strong interaction between theoretical and experimental physics is mutually beneficial. This is why we decided to bring theoretical and experimental groups together in our research institutes, going against the trend of separating them more and more.’

Productive scientist and author

Katsnelson has authored a standard work on solid-state physics and various monographs. He is lead or co-author of more than 500 scientific papers, and adds more than 50 each year. Andre Geim joked that Katsnelson apparently wants to reach 1000 articles before he retires. ‘Every time I call him, I ask: how many papers did you write this week? He just can’t stop.’ Katsnelson explains that his high productivity is the result of the habit from his Soviet years of starting many projects simultaneously. ‘In those days, if only 2 out of 100 projects were successful, I was happy. Here, the environment is so beneficial that most projects succeed.’

In addition, Katsnelson writes on the philosophy of science and – in Russian – about science and spirituality. He also writes poetry. ‘That is becoming an increasingly important part of my work. Five collections of my poetry have now been published in an online literary periodical. Publishing on paper in Russia today is madness. When I am in Jekatarinenburg this July, a reading of my poems is planned. For the first time.’

Prof. M.I. Katsnelson is knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion, Honorary Doctor of Uppsala University

Attached files
  • Prof. Katsnelson (Credit Bert Beelen)
  • Prof Katsnelson (Credit Bert Beelen)

Other content in...