Eugene Stanley

Oration given by the Public Orator, Dr Paul Jenkins, on the award of an honorary degree to Eugene Stanley on 11 July 2017

Gene Stanley was born in Oklahoma and graduated in Physics from Wesleyan University.  He obtained a PhD from Harvard in 1967.

Gene was appointed Assistant Professor in physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was soon promoted to Associate Professor in recognition of his inter-departmental teaching and research.  He next made the one mile journey across the Charles River to the University of Boston, where he has stayed for the rest of his career. But that should not be regarded as a sign that he is a stick in the mud.   Intellectually he has travelled across numerous subjects, pioneering interdisciplinary research and he holds no fewer than five professorships in Physics, Chemistry, Biomedical Engineering and Physiology.

Eugene Stanley’s research interests are not only in the traditional fields of physics but also in the applications of the ideas of physics to medical, economic and even sociological problems.

His research output is truly phenomenal.  He has published more than 1380 papers- many in the highest rated journals and he has written 33 books.  This work is truly significant by any measure of research impact. Google scholar lists over 134,000 citations to his work.  Professor Stanley is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, the highest honour given to the very best American scientists. He has been awarded many prizes, the most prestigious being the Boltzmann Medal given by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics.  Honorary Doctorates have been awarded to Professor Stanley from Universities in Brazil, Italy, Poland, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Israel and the United States.  These honours testify to the world-wide esteem for Professor Stanley.

He currently focuses on four areas of research.

The first is to apply the expertise of his research group in statistical and condensed matter physics to the miss-folding of proteins that are important in Alzheimer’s disease.  Protein structures are calculated, and then compared with experimental data to gain a greater understanding of the underlying causes of the condition.  This work was awarded the Memory Ride prize for research into Alzheimer’s disease.

The second area involves a study of how water molecules interact when they are in a layer around a protein.  The Stanley group is generating computer models to explain experiments on a new theory of the nature of water in the restricted environments within cells. The importance of water in living systems is a fundamental question in Physics and Chemistry and Professor Stanley and his co-workers are making significant contributions in this area.

The third area is research on human behaviour in social networks.  How independent individuals come together to form communities is a vitally important subject for our society. Gene Stanley has applied modern methods of statistical physics to understanding how communities form, how diverse individuals emerge as leaders and how communities respond to threats.

The final area is Econophysics.  Gene Stanley is called the father of modern Econophysics, a term which he coined.  This is a field also studied by Professor Emmanuel Haven from the Management School at this University. Professor Stanley’s group applies the methods of statistical physics to the problem of understanding economic and financial data.  To physicists the economy is a collection of interacting units; everything depends on everything else.  The problem is, how does everything depend everything else?  Professor Stanley’s group are looking for Laws that will lead to a better understanding of economic data.  The understanding and prediction of events which dramatically affect the economy is of paramount importance, as our experience of the past decade confirms. The econophysics movement has made important inroads into this challenging area.  How, for example, can an approach from physics allow us to improve our estimates of how likely devastating stock market crises are to occur.  One important line of enquiry is the application of quantum mechanics to the understanding of turbulence in the economic environment.  This study has had a reverse spin-off back into the physics of turbulence in the physical world.  I understand that Professor Stanley has no plans to study ways of predicting turbulence in world politics!

Gene is also active in developing the role of women in the physical sciences.  He won the American Physical Society Nicholson Medal for Humanitarian Service in 2004 “For his extraordinary contributions to human rights, for his initiatives on behalf of female physicists, and for his caring and supportive relationship with those who have worked with him.”  He is also a jury member for the L’Oreal-UNESCO prize “Women in Science.”

In summary Professor Eugene Stanley is an exceptional scientist who has invented the research field of econophysics and has made significant contributions to traditional areas of Physics. He is an exceptional person in society who has endeavoured to improve the status of women in the physics scientific community world-wide.

Mr Chancellor, on the recommendation of the Senate and Council, I present Harry Eugene Stanley that you may confer upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Science.

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