David R. Nelson

David R. Nelson

  • Arthur K. Solomon Professor of Biophysics and Professor of Physics and Applied Physics


Collective effects in equilibrium and dynamical many-particle systems present challenging problems in statistical mechanics, condensed matter physics and physical biology.

Professor Nelson works on theoretical problems in many of these areas, often on aspects involving defects, geometry, statistical mechanics and systems driven far from equilibrium.  His research focuses on attempts to gain new insights into turbulent liquids, liquid crystals, polymers, phase transitions, glasses, superfluids, superconductors and problems in physical biology.

Professor Nelson has developed a theory of the structure of metallic glasses based on projections from an ideal curved-space icosahedral crystal and has made several contributions to the theory of icosahedral quasicrystals.

He has a long-standing interest in the statistical mechanics of two-dimensional melting. His interests have also included the physics of flexible sheet polymers and membranes (with applications to free-standing graphene monlayers), entangled flux liquids in high-temperature superconductors,  the statistical dynamics of biopolymers such as DNA, and a combination of experiments and theory that probe spatial population genetics.

Contact Information

Office:Lyman 325
Office Phone:(617) 495-4331
Office Fax(617) 496-2545

Primary Teaching Area

Positions & Employment

Harvard University

  • 2005-Present: Arthur K. Solomon Professor of Biophysics and Professor of Physics and Applied Physics
  • 1997-Present: Professor of Applied Physics
  • 1997-2000: Chair of Physics Department
  • 1992-2005: Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics
  • 1980-1982: Professor of Physics
  • 1978-1980: Associate Professor of Physics
  • 1975-1978: Junior Fellow, Harvard Society of Fellows

IBM T. J. Watson Research Laboratory, Exxon Research, Bell Laboratories, and the Mitre Corporation

  • 2005-Present: Consultant

Other Experience & Professional Membership

  • Elected to National Academy of Sciences, 1994
  • Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1988
  • Senior Fellow, Harvard Society of Fellows, 1986-2003
  • Fellow, American Physical Society
  • Member, American Association for the Advancement of Science


  • Kavli Lectureship, Delft University, 2010
  • Primakoff Lecturer, University of Pennsylvania, 2007
  • Mark Kac Memorial Lecturer, Los Alamos National Laboratory, 2007
  • Lorentz Visiting Professor Leiden, 2006
  • Sommerfeld Lecturer, Ludwig-Maxilliam University, Munich, 2006
  • Mayent-Rothschild Visiting Professor Paris, Insitute Curie, 2005
  • Mary Upson Visiting Professor, Cornell University, 2004
  • Buckley Prize (for research on soft condensed matter), 2004
  • Bardeen Prize (for research in superconductivity), 2003
  • Welsh lectures, University of Toronto, 2001
  • Harvard Ledlie Prize, 1995
  • Guggenheim Fellowship, 1993-1994
  • National Academy of Sciences Award for Initiatives in Research, 1986
  • MacArthur Prize Fellowship, 1984-1989
  • A.P. Sloan Fellowship, 1979-1983