Anderson, Philip Warren (1923-) is a solid-state, or condensed-matter, theoretical physicist. As a theorist, Anderson provides a fundamental understanding of how certain types of technology work. His insights help inventors and engineers develop and improve products such as radios, VCRs, televisions, and computers. For his theoretical investigations of the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems, Anderson shared the 1977 Nobel Prize in physics with Sir Nevill Mott of the United Kingdom and John Hasbrouck van Vleck of the United States.
Anderson's studies have included spectral line broadening, magnetism, superconductivity, and superfluidity. He uses techniques and calculations to explain the properties and behavior of the various phenomenons. Early in his career, Anderson succeeded in explaining certain properties of insulating magnetic materials. After that, much of Anderson's research focused on disordered systems, namely liquids and noncrystalline solids. These systems are difficult to study, because the atoms are not in well-defined patterns or positions. In 1958, Anderson published a paper in which he stated that the electrons in a disordered solid are tied to specific locations and do not move freely, a discovery that has come to be known as the Anderson localization. Anderson's work laid the foundation for noncrystalline semiconductors, which are used in solar cells and photocopying machines.
Anderson was born in Indiana but raised in Urbana, Illinois. His father, Harry Warren Anderson, was a professor of plant pathology at the University of Illinois. His mother, Elsie-Osborne Anderson, was the daughter of a mathematics professor.
After graduating from University High School, Anderson enrolled at Harvard University on a national scholarship. In 1943, he received his B.S. degree in electronic physics. By then, the United States had entered World War II (1939-1945), and he put his graduate studies on hold to serve in the U.S. Navy. For two years, he worked as a radio engineer at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. When the war ended, Anderson returned to Harvard. In graduate school, Anderson studied spectral line broadening. He used advanced mathematical techniques to explain how gas spectrum line broadening depends on gas pressure. Some of his methodology has become standard modern usage. This research earned Anderson an M.S. degree in 1947 and a Ph.D. degree in 1949.
After graduation, Anderson accepted a job at Bell Telephone Laboratories (now part of Lucent Technologies), in Murray Hill, New Jersey, where he joined a team of renowned theoretical physicists. In the academic year 1953-1954, Anderson took a sabbatical to teach at the University of Tokyo as a Fulbright scholar in physics. While attending a conference in Kyoto in 1953, Anderson met British physicist Nevill Mott. In 1961, Anderson spent a year at Cambridge as a visiting professor. Starting in 1967, Anderson arranged a schedule that allowed him to spend half the year working at the Cavendish Laboratory and the other half of the year working at Bell Labs. In 1975, Anderson replaced his Cambridge post for a half-time professorship at Princeton University. After retiring from Bell Labs in 1984, Anderson accepted a position as full-time physics professor at Princeton.
Since the late 1980's. Anderson has been studying high-temperature superconductors. Superconductivity occurs when a material allows electricity to flow freely without resistance, usually when the temperature is near absolute zero. But in 1987, scientists discovered materials that became superconductors at high-temperature (i.e. -240 °F)—that is, temperatures well above absolute zero (-459.67 °F). Physicists have been unable to offer an explanation for the high-temperature phenomenon. Anderson believes he is on the path to learning the answer, but he acknowledges it may be some time before he succeeds. His ideas have not been without controversy, however, and other scientists have criticized his approach.
Anderson has been active in a number of political causes, including those opposing American involvement in Vietnam, as well as those against the missile defense system known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars.” He has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Santa Fe Institute, a nonprofit, multidisciplinary research center, founded in 1984.
In 1947, Anderson married Joyce Gothwaite. Anderson continues to teach at Princeton.