Distinguished University Professor Emeritus Michael E. Fisher, 1931-2021

Michael E. Fisher was primarily a theoretical scientist who worked mainly in the areas of statistical physics, the theory of condensed matter, especially magnetism and superfluid helium, and physical chemistry, as well as associated foundational and mathematical problems such as Teoplitz determinants.  Following early work on numerical analysis and analog computation – which included the construction of an “ultra-high speed” electronic analog computer – his contributions to the modern theory of critical phenomena, renormalization groups, and phase transitions have been particularly influential.  In more recent years he studied biophysics, especially the dynamics of motor proteins.

Dr. Fisher was born in Fyzabad in Trinidad, West Indies in 1931 but was educated mainly in Britain, with a two-year stay in South Africa.  He gained a B.Sc. in physics from King’s College London in 1951 and, following national service in the Royal Air Force, a Ph.D. in 1957.  Appointed a Lecturer in 1958, he was promoted to a Professorship in Physics in 1965.  He moved to Cornell in Chemistry and Mathematics in 1966, later becoming the Horace White Professor of Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics.  In 1987 he joined the Institute for Physical Science and Technology and the Department of Physics at the University of Maryland where he was a University System of Maryland Regents Professor, a Distinguished University Professor and Distinguished Scholar-Teacher.

A Fellow and former vice-President of The Royal Society of London, Dr. Fisher was also a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society.  He holds Honorary Fellowships in the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Indian Academy of Sciences and is a Foreign Member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and the Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters. 

Among other honors and awards, he received the Wolf Prize in physics (1980), the Langmuir prize in chemical physics (1970) Boltzmann Medal (1983), Hildebrand Award for the chemistry of liquids (1995), and the inaugural American Physical Society Lars Onsager Prize (1995).  He was awarded honorary doctorates from Yale University (1987), from Tel Aviv University (1992), from the Weizmann Institute (2009) and from the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon (2012).  In 2005 he was recognized by a Queen’s Medal of The Royal Society and in 2009 received the Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Basic Sciences from the BBVA Foundation in Spain.