Science & Tech

Harvard undergraduate discovers novel atomic cluster

1 min read

Using supercomputer, 18-year-old finds what older scientists missed

Eighteen-year-old Kevin Chan, a member of the Harvard College Class of 2004, used a supercomputer to discover a novel arrangement of atoms that had been missed by other scientists studying such clusters. Chan made the unexpected discovery in late June 2001 while working on a summer project at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC). Chan, a student majoring in mathematics, used a variation of a well-known mathematical technique to discover that 78 neutral atoms can theoretically settle into the shape of a particular “double icosahedron.” Icosahedrons are 20-sided objects. Chan used a variant of a so-called “basin-hopping” algorithm developed by Robert Leary, an applied mathematician at SDSC under whom Chan worked during the summer. The mathematician and his colleagues try to understand how 10 to more than 100 neutral atoms arrange themselves into clusters with the lowest-energy states possible.