In 2011, the Board of Trustees of the Marcel-Benoist-Foundation under the chairmanship of Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter will award the Marcel-Benoist-Prize to Michele Parrinello. The award is in recognition of the physicist’s computer-aided models in the field of molecular dynamics.
This is not the first major prize that Michele Parrinello has received for his research. He was last awarded the Dirac Medal together with another physicist, Roberto Car. Just two years later he has now been awarded the Marcel-Benoist-Prize, one of Switzerland’s most prestigious research prizes which is often referred to as a «Swiss Nobel Prize». «This is a great honour for me. While I know that I am integrated in the Swiss research scene, the prize is a further confirmation thereof», said a happy Parrinello.
Parrinello was born in Italy in 1945 and started his career in science as a physicist in Trieste. That was where he achieved his first fundamental scientific successes with Roberto Car in 1985. The Car-Parrinello methods developed by the two physicists (see also article on CSCS web pages) helped to provide a breakthrough in the simulation of molecular processes.
His research brought Parrinello from Trieste to the IBM Research Lab in Rüschlikon and then on to the Max Planck Institute, of which he is still a member today. Parrinello has been working as a professor of computational science at ETH Zurich since 2001. Until 2003, he was Director of CSCS. CSCS still plays an important role in Parrinello’s research, as he uses the supercomputers at CSCS for his complex simulations. He currently holds a dual professorship at ETH Zurich and, since this year, at the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI) Lugano.
Throughout the years, Parrinello and his team have constantly further developed the simulation methods in order to efficiently calculate and understand the molecular structures and properties of even more complex systems. Just recently Parrinello used a new method to demonstrate the phase transition from graphite to diamond. This transition does not take place suddenly, as assumed to date, but in a step-by-step manner through the creation of a diamond nucleus in the graphite, out of which the complete transition takes place when high pressure is applied.