Starting Out Early
Dr. John Hopfield: From kitchen chemistry to associative neural network
Dr. John Hopfield's foray into the word of science started very early. His first ‘laboratory’ was his mother’s kitchen where, among other things, he learnt to produce hydrogen, grow crystals, and play with invisible ink.
Hopfield soon graduated from ‘kitchen chemistry’ to assembling a radio, thus getting ‘hands-on training’ in electronics. A curious child in a household that encouraged scientific exploration was the perfect recipe to create a scientist.
His curiosity to understand and explore the world around him led Hopfield to physics. “For me...the most interesting physics involves the properties of things at the human scale, and how these are related to underlying more microscopic structure and properties,” writes Hopfield, in an essay titled “Growing up in ‘Science'” that appears in One Hundred Reasons to be a Scientist. Hopfield’s essay gives a glimpse into what shaped his research career.
Following university studies that led to work in the field of condensed matter, Hopfield turned his attention toward understanding the physics that makes biological systems work. In 1982, he invented an associative neural network, commonly known as the ‘Hopfield model’.
In 2001, Hopfield was awarded the Dirac Medal by ICTP for his contribution “to an impressively broad spectra of scientific subjects”.