Rutgers University Department of Physics and Astronomy

Paul L. Leath Award

The Paul L. Leath Award is given annually to one or more Rutgers undergraduates who, in the judgment of the physics faculty, have written an outstanding senior thesis. The award winners are announced at the Departmental Awards Banquet in April, sponsored by the Rutgers Society of Physics Students .

A photograph of Prof. Leath is shown above. Click on the picture to see the image by itself.

Paul L. Leath (1941-)

Paul L. Leath was born on January 9, 1941 in Moberly, Missouri. He was valedictorian of the Moberly High School graduating class of 1958, and won full tuition scholarships to Moberly Junior College (from which he graduated in 1960), and to The University of Missouri, Columbia (from which he graduated, with distinction, in Physics in 1961). He received an NDEA Title IV Fellowship to attend graduate school at the University of Missouri, Columbia, where he received his M.S. Degree in 1963, and Ph.D Degree in Theoretical Physics in 1966. His Ph.D thesis was on the Lattice Dynamics of Disordered Alloys, with thesis advisor, Professor Bernard Goodman. In 1966, he went to the Department of Theoretical Physics of the University of Oxford as a postdoctoral research officer under the mentorship of Professor Roger Elliott, where he studied and extended the Coherent Potential Approximation for disordered alloys. This resulted in a series of important papers including a much-cited review article in Reviews of Modern Physics.

In 1967 he left his postdoctoral position at Oxford to become an assistant professor in Physics at Rutgers, where he was promoted to associate professor in 1971, and became full professor in 1978. With his graduate students and post docs he studied and explained many aspects of disorder in materials. He extended the theory of the dynamics and transport of electrons, phonons, and spin waves in disordered materials to include off-diagonal and environmental disorder, as well as to include explicitly the effects of clusters of defects. He pioneered the theoretical understanding of percolation and the percolation transition in disordered materials. Notably, with graduate student Brian Watson, he reported the first experimental measurement of the percolation critical exponent, and in computer simulations with Gary Reich explained the geometry of percolation clusters and the origin of the critical exponents. With John Chalupa and Gary Reich, he discovered "bootstrap percolation", the first example of a percolation system with a first-order (discontinuous) transition. With Phillip Duxbury, and others, he explored the critical behavior of elasticity near the rigidity percolation threshold.

With Phillip Duxbury, he studied the fracture of disordered materials and used the statistics of extremes to discover a general logarithmic law for the vanishing of the fracture strength of materials with random vacancies in the thermodynamic limit. He studied a number of kinds of disordered materials using exact solutions and numerical simulations to explore the tough-to-brittle transition, the geometry of fractures and delaminations, as well as other properties. These techniques were also used to study dielectric breakdown, and to explain current-driven effects in superconductors near the superconducting threshold. Also, he carried out calculations and explained many other properties of disordered materials as described in over 80 research papers. He advised 6 Ph.D students, and several M.S students, and mentored 10 post docs.

From 1970-72, he was the Vice-President, and Chair of the Bargaining Team, for the Rutgers Chapter of the AAUP, and helped create the Rutgers sabbatical program, dental program, merit salary program, and academic tenure regulations. From 1973-75, he was the Graduate Program Director and Associate Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. From 1978-87, he was the Associate Provost for the Sciences of the Rutgers New Brunswick Campus, and from 1987-92 he was the Provost of the New Brunswick Campus. In these administrative roles, he coordinated, in 1980-82, the committees that planned and carried out the academic reorganization of the departments on the campus, chaired the committee that created the University-Industry high-technology research centers on the Rutgers campuses, and helped plan and organize the "excellence" faculty hiring initiative that brought many world-class scholars and Henry Rutgers Research fellows to the University in the late 80's and early 90's. During this time the Campus was invited into the prestigious American Association of Universities.

From 1995-2004, he was the Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy and lead a major, successful fund-raising drive to create many endowed funds, and, notably, received the major gift that allowed the Department, with University support, to put together the funds to buy into a share of the SALT telescope, being built in South Africa. Many outstanding faculty were hired and grant funding increased greatly.

He served many roles on the Rutgers University Senate, and the New Brunswick Faculty Council. He also served on the boards of New Brunswick Tomorrow, the American Repertory Ballet Company, the Borough Council of Millstone, NJ, and the Board of Trustees of Rutgers Preparatory School.

Winners of the Paul L. Leath Award

2012Samia BouzidAriana Hackenburg Victoria Yu
2013Joseph Reichert   
2014Aravind DevarakondaGabriela Pikul  
2015Christopher Grud   
2016Eric MendelsohnChristine Ray  

Photographs from Awards Banquets

Click on any picture to see a larger image.

Award winners Samia Bouzid (left), Ariana Hackenburg (middle), and Victoria Yu (right). The prize was presented at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 17, 2012.
Award winner Joseph Reichert. The prize was presented at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 23, 2013.
Award winners Aravind Devarakonda (left) and Gabriela Pikul (right). The prize was presented at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 22, 2014.
Award winner Christopher Grud. The prize was presented at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 21, 2015.
Award winners Eric Mendelsohn (left) and Christine Ray (right). The prize was presented at the Departmental Awards Banquet on April 19, 2016.

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