Jan Zaanen

Jan Zaanen

Jan Zaanen
Jan Zaanen
Born (1957-04-17) 17 April 1957
Nationality Netherlands
Fields Theoretical physics
Institutions Leiden University
Personal homepage

Jan Zaanen (born 17 April 1957, Leiden) is Professor of Theoretical Physics at Leiden University, The Netherlands. He is best known for his contributions to the understanding of the quantum physics of the electrons in strongly correlated material, and in particular high temperature superconductivity. Zaanen areas of interest are in the search for novel forms of collective quantum phenomena realized in systems build from mundane constituents like electrons, spins, and atoms.

He introduced the so-called Zaanen-Sawatzky-Allen diagram, the LDA+U band structure method and he became particularly well known for his discovery of the stripe instability of the doped Mott insulator. His present research is focussed on the quantum critical point and unconventional phases of quantum matter. He is also well known for his many editorial contributions to the journals Nature and Science. He is currently on the board of reviewing editors of the latter journal and also editor of the Journal of High Energy Physics.


Jan Zaanen is born 17 April 1957 in Leiden. He received his degree in Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart, he worked for some years as a researcher at AT&T Bell Laboratories in the USA. In 1993 Zaanen returned to the Netherlands, where he worked at Leiden University as a Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) fellow. He has been a professor at Leiden since 2000. Furthermore, in 2004 he was appointed as a visiting professor for one year at Stanford University.

In 2004-2005 he spent a year at Stanford University sponsored by the Fulbright Program and in 2006 he received the Spinozapremie, the "Dutch Nobel prize", for his scientific accomplishments.[1] Recently Zaanen is one of the driving forces behind the scientific cooperation between the fields of String Theory and high-temperature superconductivity. In an interview with Dutch newspaper, de Volkrant, he stated:[2]

After winning the Spinozapremie, it was no longer necessary to worry whether I was proving myself enough. You start looking at things you really like. Furthermore I wanted to prove that I was not too old to learn new things. The String Theory really is another ballgame than the rest of Physics and I'm proud that I was able to learn it.

Zaanen was a visiting professor of Theoretical Physics at the Ecole Normale Superieur, Paris, France. In 2012 and 2013 he respectivaly was a solvay Professor of Physics at the Solvay Institute, Brussels, Belgium and a fellow of the Newton Centre, Cambridge University, UK. At present he is Professor of Theoretical Physics, Leiden University, the Netherlands.

Spinoza Prize winners 2006, Jan Zaanen, Ben Scheres, Jozien Benzing en Carl Figdor. To the right is NWO-director Peter Nijkamp

Since 2012 Zaanen is member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.[3]

High-temperature superconductivity

Recently Zaanen is known for his contribution to the understanding of high-temperature superconductivity. In most high-temperature superconductors the copper atoms are arranged in thin layers. Each atom has its own magnetic field which is opposite to that of its neighbor. Electrons can scarcely move in such an environment, as they are also magnetic. Recently, Zaanen and colleagues Cubrovic and Schalm applied String Theory to explain a physical phenomenon.[4] Initially the String Theory attracted a lot of criticism.[5][6][7][8][9][10] However, in recent years an increasing amount of experimental evidence has been collected in its favor. Its latest accomplishment is the development of the AdS/CFT correspondence theory, sometimes called Maldacena duality or gauge/gravity duality.

Once it was realised that AdS/CFT could be applied to a broader spectrum of Physical phenomona,[11] Zaanen was inspired to use these ideas for his own area of High-temperature superconductivity. Zaanen stated:

"It has always been assumed that once you understand this quantum-critical state, you can also understand high temperature super-conductivity. But, although the experiments produced a lot of information, we hadn't the faintest idea of how to describe this phenomenon. We hadn't expected it to work so well, the maths was a perfect fit; it was superb. When we saw the calculations, at first we could hardly believe it, but it was right."[12]

Other areas of involvement


"Quantum Field Theory not sexy? Among intima – mainly theoretical physicist – it enjoys the reputation of being the most sexy thing a human being can learn"[13]

"The quantum world makes more sense than ours"[14]

"Dark energy is the most wonderful mystery in the history of physics"[15]

"The string theorists were saying, 'Give us two more weeks and we will have explained all the big puzzles in the universe'. That was 20 years ago."[16]

"I thought string theory was hocus-pocus"[16]

Recent publications

  • A. Mesaros, K. Fujita, H. Eisaki, J.C. Davis, S. Sachdev, J. Zaanen, E.-A. Kim and M. Lawler, How topological defects couple the smectic and nematic electronic structure of the cuprate pseudogap states, Science, 426 (2011).
  • R.J. Slager, A. Mesaros, V. Juricic and J. Zaanen, The space group classification of topological band-insulators, Nature Physics, 98 (2013).
  • Y. Liu, K. Schalm, Y.-W. Sun and J. Zaanen, Lattice potentials in holographic non Fermi-liquids: hybridizing local quantum criticality, Journal of High Energy Physics, 036 (2012).
  • J. Zaanen, Holographic duality: stealing dimensions from metals, Nature Physics 9, 609 (2013)
  • L. Rademaker, Y. Pramudya, J. Zaanen and V. Dobrosavljevic, Influence of long-range interactions on charge ordering phenomena on a square lattice, Physical Review E 88, 032121 (2013)
  • L. Rademaker, J. van den Brink, H. Hilgenkamp and J. Zaanen, Enhancement of spin propagation due to interlayer exciton condensation, Physical Review B 88, 121101(R) (2013)
  • A.J. Beekman, K. Wu, V. Cvetkovic and J. Zaanen, Deconfining the rotational Goldstone mode: the superconducting quantum liquid crystal in 2+1 dimensions, Physical Review B 88, 024121(2013)


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  4. ^ Čubrović, M., Zaanen, J., & Schalm, K. (2009). String theory, quantum phase transitions, and the emergent Fermi liquid. Science, 325(5939), 439-444.
  5. ^ Woit, Peter Not Even Wrong. Math.columbia.edu. Retrieved on 2012-07-11.
  6. ^ Smolin, Lee. The Trouble With Physics. Thetroublewithphysics.com. Retrieved on 2012-07-11.
  7. ^ The n-Category Cafe. Golem.ph.utexas.edu (2007-02-25). Retrieved on 2012-07-11.
  8. ^ John Baez weblog. Math.ucr.edu (2007-02-25). Retrieved on 2012-07-11.
  9. ^ Woit, P. (Columbia University), String theory: An Evaluation, February 2001, arXiv:physics/0102051
  10. ^ Woit, P. Is String Theory Testable? INFN Rome March 2007
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  12. ^ http://www.news.leiden.edu/news/string-theory.html
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  16. ^ a b

External links

  • Article from Startpagina Universiteit Leiden
  • Article from Science magazine
  • Article from Science Daily