Donald R. Beck

Donald R. Beck


  • Professor, Physics
  • PhD, Physics, Lehigh University

Research Description

Professor Beck and his group concentrate on understanding the most complicated atoms; the transition metal, lanthanide, and actinide series. These pose a large computational challenge to existing theory and require the simultaneous inclusion of relativistic and correlation (many body) effects. These atoms are technologically important in solid state and fusion (plasma) devices. Current properties of interest include electron affinities, hyperfine structure, and lifetimes (see below); these are among the most difficult properties to describe accurately. The methodology used is called relativistic configuration interaction (RCI).

The work of the Beck research group has led to the discovery of an entirely new anion (negatively charged ion), Be−, and the group has been the first to characterize the lanthanide and actinide anions Ce−, Pr−, Nd−, Pm−, Sm−, Eu−, Gd−, Tb−, Dy−, Ho−, Er−, Th−, Pa−, U−, Np−, Pu−, Cm−, Bk−, Cf−, and Es− with ab initio calculations. They have also been able to understand and remove the systematic discrepancy between theory and experiment for hyperfine structure in transition metal atoms. Much of what the Beck group has learned can be transported to molecular and solid-state calculations involving these atoms.

In the molecular domain, Beck has developed better inter-molecular potentials to describe the transport of natural gas. He used many-body theory to obtain potential energy surfaces of substances such as methane, ethane, and propane. He then did Monte Carlo simulation studies to predict various thermophysical properties of the gas.

Currently the group has two PCs with 2.5 GHz AMD processors dedicated to this work, which is supported by the National Science Foundation and until recently the Department of Energy. Typically, Beck works with two graduate students and one postdoctoral research associate.


  • Theoretical Atomic Physics
  • Theoretical Molecular Physics