Shoucheng Zhang was born on February 15, 1963 in Shanghai, China to Hongfan Zhang and Manfan Ding. At the age of 15, he started attending Fudan University, and in 1980, he was selected to study abroad at the Free University of Berlin, where he completed his Bachelors degree in Physics in 1983. During that time, Shoucheng started courting his future wife Barbara (Xiaofan), whom he had met in kindergarten, by sending her letters and poems while she was teaching high school students in Shanghai. After university, Shoucheng went to study for a Ph.D. in Physics at Stony Brook University, where he was mentored by Nobel laureate Chen-Ning Yang and advised by Peter van Nieuwenhuizen and Steven Kivelson. Barbara joined Shoucheng at Stony Brook in 1985 for a masters program, and they graduated together in 1987. Shoucheng and Barbara were married in 1987 in Santa Barbara. They had their son Brian in 1993 and their daughter Stephanie in 1996.
After his Ph.D., Shoucheng was a postdoctoral fellow at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, CA from 1987 to 1989, then a Research Scientist at IBM Almaden Research Center from 1989 to 1993. In 1993, Shoucheng joined Stanford University as an Assistant Professor of Physics. In 2010, Shoucheng was named the J.G. Jackson and C. J. Wood Professor in Physics. In 2013, Shoucheng co-founded Danhua Capital, a venture capital firm. Shoucheng was a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Foreign Member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Shoucheng received numerous awards and honors for his ground-breaking research in physics. In 2005, Shoucheng’s group, in parallel with Charles Kane and Eugene Mele, proposed a new state of matter called the quantum spin Hall insulator. In 2006, Shoucheng and his students B. Andrei Bernevig and Taylor Hughes predicted the first material — mercury telluride — that would realize the quantum spin Hall insulator. This experiment was successfully carried out by Laurens Molenkamp’s lab at the University of Wurzburg in 2007 and was featured as one of Science’s top 10 breakthroughs of the year. In 2007-2008, Shoucheng, Hughes, Shoucheng’s postdoc Xiao-Liang Qi, and many others extended this work into a theory of topological insulators. Topological insulators have since blossomed into a flourishing area of condensed matter physics. Most recently, Shoucheng had proposed a new approach for realizing chiral Majorana fermions, and was excited to apply these advances to topological quantum computing. For his work, Shoucheng received the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2007, the Alexander von Humboldt Research Prize in 2009, the Europhysics Prize in 2010, the Oliver Buckley Prize in 2012, the Dirac Medal and Prize in 2012, the Physics Frontiers Prize in 2013, and the Benjamin Franklin Medal in 2015.
Shoucheng passed away on December 1, 2018 after fighting a battle with
depression. While many knew Shoucheng as a renowned scientist and thinker, we knew and loved him as our dear husband and father. Shoucheng cherished quality time with his family above everything else and would set aside whatever he could to be there for us. On our family vacations together, he loved to take us to the most beautiful natural sights on Earth, to share with us stories of ancient history in every region we visited, and to encourage our latest ideas and interests. Motivated by his desire to witness the glory of God through scientific research, Shoucheng brought an infectious spirit of curiosity to the entire world. His favorite poem, by William Blake, expressed his life’s mission for boundless exploration and discovering beauty:
"To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour."
Shoucheng Zhang (1963–2018)
Co-discoverer of topological insulators
Stanford theoretical physicist Shoucheng Zhang dies at 55