Balázs Győrffy, 1938-2012

December 13, 2012

One of the dominant international figures in the development of the theory of condensed matter has died.

Balázs Gyorffy was born in Eger, Hungary, in 1938, but fled to Vienna in 1956 after realising that he would be barred from higher education by the ruling Communists. His train was stopped by Russian soldiers and he, along with his friends, jumped off, ran through marshland, bribed a guard with watches, and escaped to Austria.

Professor Gyorffy's academic career began in the US, where he studied for a BSc in electrical engineering and physics at Yale University. His entry was aided by the fact that he was a swimmer of Olympic standard.

He completed his PhD on the theory of pressure effects on the output of gas lasers at Yale in 1966, under the tutorage of Willis E. Lamb Jr, a Nobel laureate in physics.

Later that year, Professor Gyorffy arrived in the UK, where he would go on to hold postdoctoral research positions at University College London, Queen Mary College (as it was then) and the University of Sheffield. In 1970, he joined the physics department at the University of Bristol as a lecturer, and he became a professor there in 1987.

In 2003, Professor Gyorffy retired. But when he became emeritus professor, his scientific productivity continued unabated and he published three papers in 2012.

Professor Gyorffy held visiting professorships at institutions across Europe and the US, including the University of Wurzburg in Germany, Vienna University of Technology in Austria and Brookhaven National Laboratory in the US.

He was perhaps best known for his contributions to the theory of metallic alloys, where he developed a powerful and tractable approach for calculating the electronic structure that continues to be a key tool for materials scientists.

He is also thought to be the first person to coin the term electron "glue" to describe the role of electrons in determining the structure and properties of metallic materials.

One of his colleagues at Bristol, Robert Evans, an emeritus professor and senior research fellow in physics, described Professor Gyorffy as "an inspirational, generous and entertaining colleague", whose absent-mindedness made him the star of many amusing anecdotes.

"On one occasion, Balázs was driving from Bristol to a conference in Manchester with a Hungarian colleague," he recalled.

"Happily talking physics and singing songs from the old days, they were unaware of the motorway exit to that fine city. It was only when another passenger woke up and noticed they were about to enter Scotland that they realised that they had gone slightly too far."

Professor Gyorffy died on 25 October following a battle with cancer. He is survived by his first wife Pilar, his second wife Carole, and two children - one from each marriage.

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