Robert Blinc

It is a melancholy honor to report the passing of Professor Robert Blinc, one of the world’s leading condensed matter physicists. Robert was born on October 31, 1933, in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He graduated from the University of Ljubljana in 1958 and completed his PhD the following year with a thesis on proton tunneling in ferroelectrics with short hydrogen bonds, supervised by Professor Dušan Hadži. This began his study elucidating the isotopic effect of deuterium in ferroelectric crystals and the development of the tunneling model of hydrogen bonded ferroelectrics (known as the Blinc–de Gennes model), which has remained an active research topic until the present.

After a postdoctoral year spent in the group of Professor JohnWaugh at M.I.T., he was appointed as a professor of physics at the University of Ljubljana. Robert was known for both his experimental work and for theoretical models. He began the NMR laboratory at the Jožef Stefan Institute in Ljubljana, where he spent exactly fifty years applying magnetic resonance to ferroelectricmaterials, liquid crystals, incommensurate dielectrics, pseudospin glasses, relaxors, and fullerenes.

As recently summarized by Prof. J. Dolinsek, Robert and coworkers predicted the phason Goldstone mode in helicoidal ferroelectric liquid crystals, discovered the relaxation mechanism via nematic order fluctuations in liquid crystals (the Pincus–Blinc model), detected solitons and phasons in incommensurate systems using NMR, determined the Edwards-Anderson order parameter in proton and deuteron glasses, developed the random bond–random field Ising model of proton and deuteron glasses (the Pirc–Tadić–Blinc model), developed the spherical random bond–random field model of relaxors, revealed the nature of ferromagnetism in organic ferromagnet TDAE-C60, and discovered the origin of the giant electromechanical effect in PMN-PZT relaxors via the existence of a critical end point. Robert also tried to help Slovenia with practical problems, and thus his work was not limited to academic physics with no application: He pioneered the application of NMR to the nondestructive oil-content measurements in plant seeds, the hardeningrate determination of cements and concrete by NMR and the TNT explosive detection by nitrogen NQR, where he is the holder of three patents. In the early stage of the double resonance technique, he succeeded in obtaining the first nitrogen NMR spectra in nucleic acids and peptides.

Robert was unusually productive. His publications include more than 700 original research papers in international scientific journals, including three papers in Nature (1958, 1966, 2006), two in Science (both in 1996) and 47 in Physical Review Letters. His publications were cited more than 14,000 times in SCI. One of his most important achievements of Professor Robert Blinc is the book Soft Modes in Ferroelectrics and Antiferroelectrics (North Holland, 1974), written together with Boštjan Žekš. The book was translated into Russian (1975) and Chinese (1982) and belongs to the 600 most-cited scientific books in the world. Another of his books, written with Igor Mušević and Boštjan Žekš, The Physics of Ferroelectric and Antiferroelectric Liquid Crystals, was published in 2000 by World Scientific. His last book Advanced Ferroelectricity (Oxford Science Publications) appeared in August 2011, shortly before he passed away. Although his early ferroelectrics research emphasized hydrogen-bonded systems, more recently his work made breakthroughs on SrTiO3, particularly on O-18 isotopic forms, and on fluorides. Between 2008 and 2011 he published half a dozen papers with one of us (JFS) on fluoride multiferroics. He remained extremely active until his last months.

As professor of physics at the University of Ljubljana, Robert Blinc was the supervisor for 35 PhD theses in the field of condensed matter physics and NMR spectroscopy. He was the founder and the head of the Condensed Matter Physics Department at the Jožef Stefan Institute for 47 years and a member (and vice-president in the years 1980–1999) of the Academy of Science and Arts of Slovenia. Robert Blinc maintained awide range of contacts with scientists worldwide. To mention only a few of them, he was a visiting professor at the University of Washington in Seattle; ETH Zurich, Switzerland; Federal University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil; University of Vienna in Austria; University of Utah in Salt Lake City; Kent State University in Ohio, Argonne National Laboratory, and several others. In the years 1990–1996 he was the president of the Group AMPER. He was a member of seven foreign Academies of Sciences and has received numerous national and international scientific prizes.

Robert Blinc served on the Editorial Board of the international journal FERROELECTRICS from its founding in 1970 until his death. His wise counsel and great support will be sorely missed by the journal and its Editor, GeorgeW. Taylor. Robert also served for more than forty years on the International Advisory Committee on Ferroelectrics and was the President of the European Committee on Ferrolectricity (1986–1999). He was Chairman of the 4th European Meeting on Ferroelectricity held in Portoroz, Slovenia in 1979. Also, Robert played a key role in organizing the 3rd European Conference on Applications of Polar Dielectrics in 1996 and the 11th European Meeting on Ferroelectrics in 2007. Both of these very successful meetings were held at Lake Bled in his beloved homeland of Slovenia.

Of course his lifewas not all work: He had a happy family life and was an avid skier and hiker right up until his last year. He was a first-class chess player and broadly educated—a renaissance man. He lived in a generation of Yugoslavs for whom politics was active life and not academic discussions, and he watched several regimes come and go with some personal role.

Robert touched the careers and hearts of everyone with whom he interacted. He was, in the strictest sense, “a gentleman and a scholar.” The signatures below are from a representative group and include some with whom he did experiments and theory, and in one case, for whom he served as thesis examiner. However, our sentiments would be echoed by many more scientists from around the world whom he befriended and helped along the way. He is an outstanding example of the role one man can play in developing the science of a whole country.

James F. Scott
Department of Physics
Cavendish Laboratory
Cambridge University
UK

Naresh Dalal
Florida State University
Tallahassee
Florida
USA

Janis Dolinsek
Jozef Stefan Institute
University of Ljubljana
Ljubljana
Slovenia

Marija Kosec
Jozef Stefan Institute
University of Ljubljana
Ljubljana
Slovenia

Rasa Pirc
Jozef Stefan Institute
University of Ljubljana
Ljubljana
Slovenia

George W. Taylor
Princeton Resources
Princeton
New Jersey
USA

October 2011

Reprinted by permission of Taylor & Francis (http://www.tandfonline.com) from J.F. Scott, N. Dalal, J. Dolinsek, M. Kosec, R. Pirc and G.W. Taylor, “Obituary: Robert Blinc (1933-2011)”, Ferroelectrics 425, 1-3 (2011).