Elizabeth Gibney in Nature:
In 1989, surgery for detached retinas left Gilbert Lonzarich blind for a month. Rather than feel shaken or depressed, the condensed-matter physicist at the University of Cambridge, UK, seized the opportunity, inviting his graduate students to his house to share with them how exciting it was to adapt to life without sight. Lonzarich's embrace of the experience perfectly captures his approach to life, says Andrew Mackenzie, then one of those students and now a director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids in Dresden, Germany. “Gil is one of the most positive people I've ever met. He finds interest in everything,” he says.
For more than 40 years, that optimism and curiosity has led Lonzarich to probe materials in ways never thought possible. In pioneering experiments in the 1990s, his team showed that pushing magnetic compounds to extreme pressures and close to absolute zero can make some of them conduct electricity without resistance1. This flew in the face of convention, which declared that magnetism and superconductivity could never mix. “It was as if nowadays you were talking about finding aliens or something,” says Malte Grosche, a colleague at Cambridge. That work showed physicists a new way to hunt for superconductors, which lie at the heart of technologies such as magnetic resonance imagers and particle accelerators. In recent years, it has offered a potential explanation for why some materials remain superconductors at temperatures much higher than absolute zero, which could pave the way to developing efficient, cheap devices that superconduct at room temperature. But the experiments have had an impact well beyond superconductivity. Lonzarich's method of subjecting materials to extreme conditions has become a general recipe for discovering new states of matter. Around the world, physicists now use this approach to probe a range of materials in which the collective interactions of electrons can give rise to unusual behaviour. Some of these phenomena could potentially revolutionize computing.