Charles Kane

University of Pennsylvania

2019 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics

For new ideas about topology and symmetry in physics, leading to the prediction of a new class of materials that conduct electricity only on their surface.


I have had good fortune throughout my life and career. At each stage people have encouraged me, guided me, prodded me, and had faith in me – even when I wasn’t so sure myself. My parents gave me a love of learning and the opportunity to pursue an education that opened many doors. I was introduced to condensed matter physics at the University of Chicago by Tom Rosenbaum, who taught me to appreciate experiments and gave me the superb advice to pursue a PhD at MIT with Patrick Lee. Patrick’s wisdom and deep understanding of physics continue to inspire me. I thank my colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania – especially Gene Mele and Tom Lubensky – for years of support and guidance. I learned much of what I know about the quantum Hall effect and graphene from Matthew Fisher and Gene Mele. It’s remarkable that those topics could be combined to uncover a treasure that was hiding in plain sight. I feel fortunate to have contributed to the discovery of topological insulators, and I am grateful to many experimental and theoretical colleagues for their roles in developing the field. Most of all, I am grateful for the love and support of my family, Suzanne, Alex, and Sally.

Charles Kane