May 9, 2019

Purdue professor elected to National Academy of Sciences

Chris Greene Chris Greene
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — When Purdue University physics and astronomy professor Chris Greene was recently named to the National Academy of Sciences, it merely added to his collection of scientific honors.

The Albert Overhauser Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy received the I.I. Rabi Prize in Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics in 1991, the Davisson-Germer Prize in 2010 and the Hamburg Prize for Theoretical Physics in 2013.

“Chris exemplifies the powerful, world-changing research done at Purdue University,”  Purdue President Mitch Daniels said. “Membership in the National Academy of Sciences is one of the pinnacles of distinction for a scientist. He has long established himself as a leader in his field, and we couldn’t be more proud to have him as part of our faculty.”

Greene is a pioneer in the field of theoretical, molecular and optical physics – specifically the quantum mechanics of ultracold atoms and their interaction with light, and low-energy collisions between electrons and molecules.

The goal of his research is to find ways to understand the quantum mechanical behavior of increasingly complex atomic and molecular systems. By developing new theoretical methods and using computer calculations to solve harder problems that couldn’t previously be solved theoretically, he hopes to understand some of the most elusive interactions in physics.

“We also want to use that understanding to predict new phenomena that could be tested experimentally by other groups around the world,” Greene said.

His research group discovered the mechanism that allows very slow electrons to destroy the simplest triatomic molecular ion in space (H3+). Solving this problem took decades of attempts by countless research groups, and its solution led to a better understanding of the chemistry that occurs in different types of interstellar clouds.

Greene also developed new ways to understand a class of unusual resonance phenomena, known as 3-body and 4-body recombination, that can occur in ultracold atomic gas at temperatures close to absolute zero. But there’s plenty left to discover.

“It would be exciting to find methods that allow us to solve the extremely challenging quantum mechanical equations that would permit an efficient theoretical calculation and qualitative understanding of chemical reactions involving molecules with up to five or six atoms,” Greene said. “Another desirable goal is to develop ways to control or steer the reactive processes to create desired outcomes through the application of external electromagnetic fields.”

Greene, a member of the American Physical Society, earned his bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and a master’s and Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago.

A Boilermaker since 2012, Greene joins five Purdue colleagues as current members or foreign associates of the academy. Those previously elected are R. Graham Cooks, the Henry B. Hass Distinguished Professor of analytical chemistry; H. Jay Melosh, distinguished professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences and physics; Ei-ichi Negishi, Nobel laureate and the Herbert C. Brown Distinguished Professor of Chemistry; Michael Rossmann, the Hanley Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences; and Jian-Kang Zhu, distinguished professor of plant biology.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to furthering science and technology and their use for the general welfare. Established by an act of Congress and signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, the academy is charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology.

There are currently 2,347 active members and 487 foreign associates. Foreign associates are nonvoting members of the academy, with citizenship outside the United States. For more information and the full list of newly elected members, visit

Writer: Kayla Zacharias, 765-494-9318, 

Source: Chris Greene, 765-496-1859,

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