Alexei Likhtman, 1971-2015

‘One of the leading theoretical physicists of his generation’ has died

December 3, 2015
Obituary: Alexei Likhtman, 1971-2015

Alexei Likhtman was born in Moscow on 6 August 1971 into a scientific family (his father was constantly making calculations on spare bits of paper and would throw them into his playpen when he’d finished).

He obtained a diploma in physics from Lomonosov Moscow State University in 1994, stayed on for a PhD in physics and mathematics (1996) and was then appointed a scientific fellow.

In 1998, Professor Likhtman moved to England for the rest of his life when he took up a position as a research assistant in the department of applied mathematics at the University of Leeds. A year later, he shifted into the department of physics and astronomy. This was followed in 2002 by an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council advanced fellowship.

Still only 35, in 2007 he became professor of mathematical physics at the University of Reading. This enabled Professor Likhtman to form a new group for the study of theoretical polymer physics, which explored topics such as the linear and non-linear rheology of entangled polymers, surface tension in liquid-solid interfaces and hierarchical modelling of complex fluids.

Although his eminence was recognised in major breakthroughs such as Likhtman-McLeish theory (2002), he was equally interested in finding ways of facilitating research and making its results more accessible. This led, for example, to the creation of the Reptate software tool that enables scientists to sort their polymer flow data and compare it easily with theoretical models.

Earlier this year, Professor Likhtman became the first Mercator fellow for the Freiburg-Strasbourg-Basel-Mulhouse International Research Training Group on “soft matter science”. After one research trip to Strasbourg, he described himself as “feeling like a PhD student again”.

Stephen Langdon, head of the department of mathematics and statistics at Reading, acclaimed Professor Likhtman as “without doubt, one of the leading theoretical physicists of his generation. He was an intellectual powerhouse, with academic gravitas way beyond his 44 years, yet utterly approachable, modest and always friendly in a natural way that charmed anybody who met him…

“In his eight years at Reading, he helped to build an impressive polymer physics group…Although to an outsider the mathematical and statistical methods he used may have looked fiendishly complicated, Alexei was able to apply them with ease to realistic problems, and he was passionate about helping others to see what he could see.”

A keen traveller and hiker, Professor Likhtman died after a fall in Maryland on 11 October and is survived by his wife Katrina and their two daughters.

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