MacArthur Fellows Program

David R. Nelson

Physicist | Class of March 1984

Cambridge, Massachusetts
33 at time of award
Area of Focus
Published March 1, 1984

About David's Work

David Nelson studies condensed matter physics, materials science, and chemistry, focusing on the connections that exist among fluctuations, geometry, and statistical mechanics.

Nelson works on theoretical problems,focusing on attempts to gain new insights into fluids, liquid crystals, polymers, phase transitions, glasses, superfluids, superconductors, and problems in biophysics.  His research has contributed to the theory of melting, and the characterization of underlying geometrical structures in amorphous matter.  He has developed a theory of the structure of metallic glasses, based on projections from an ideal, curved-space icosahedral crystal and has made several contributions to the theory of icosahedral quasicrystals.  Nelson’s work on polymerized membranes and on flux-line entanglement in high-temperature superconductors has attracted considerable interest, with important implications for many of the proposed applications of these new materials. 


Nelson was a Harvard Junior Fellow (1975-1978) and began teaching in the Department of Physics at Harvard University in 1978.  He has served as a consultant to various companies including IBM, Mitre Corporation, AT&T Bell Laboratories, and Exxon Research and Engineering.  Nelson is the Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and a professor of applied physics at Harvard University.

Nelson received an A.B. (1972), an M.S. (1974), and a Ph.D. (1975) from Cornell University, and an M.A. (1980) from Harvard University.

Last updated January 1, 2005.

Select News Coverage of David R. Nelson
July 9, 2014
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David R. Nelson , 1984 MacArthur Fellow
January 24, 2014
“Veldhoven 2014, Keynote David Nelson”
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David R. Nelson , 1984 MacArthur Fellow
May 3, 2010
“Gene Surfing and Survival of the Luckiest”
Harvard University Department of Physics
David R. Nelson , 1984 MacArthur Fellow
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