In Memoriam Hans Schmid (1931 - 2015)


Hans Schmid, Professor Emeritus at the Faculty of Science of the University of Geneva passed away on Thursday, April 2. He was a member of the Swiss Physical Society since 1968.

Hans Schmid was born on January 11, 1931 in Reichenberg (Liberec) in the then German speaking part of the present Czech Republic. In 1945 he moved with his family to Innsbruck. He studied at the Technical University Graz, where he received his doctoral degree in inorganic physical chemistry in 1955. After two years as research assistant in the Austrian aluminum industry, he moved in 1957 to the Battelle Research Laboratories in Geneva, where he worked on the synthesis and physical properties of ferroelectric and ferroelastic materials, mainly with a view to application in the fields of heat detection, display and data storage. This research culminated in 1964 in the synthesis of single crystals of the boracite Ni3B7O13I, the first material that was found to be simultaneously ferroelectric, (weakly) ferromagnetic and ferroelastic. Together with Dr. E. Ascher, he showed that in this boracite the spontaneous electric polarization can be switched by a magnetic field and the spontaneous magnetization by an electric field. Hans Schmid presents a very lively account of this discovery in [1], mentioning the collaborators that contributed to the success as well as the many obstacles he had to overcome for gaining financial support to continue his research. In 1973 he organized and chaired in Seattle (USA) the first international conference on "Magnetoelectric Interaction Phenomena in Crystals". In 1974 he was appointed head of the "Crystal Physics Section" and in 1976 "Senior Scientist" at Battelle Geneva Research Center. In 1975 he became "Privatdozent" in Crystallography at the Faculty of Science of the University of Geneva.

From 1977 to 1996 he lectured in the Department of Inorganic, Analytical and Applied Chemistry of the University of Geneva, first as associate professor and from 1978 as full professor of Inorganic Applied Chemistry, Solid State Chemistry and Materials Science. With Dr. J.-P. Rivera, he set up one of the best equipped laboratories for the study of the magnetoelectric effect and the optical properties of crystals. Together with Rivera, several talented postdocs and PhD students he continued his research on magnetically ordered ferroelectrics and ferroelastics and their magnetoelectric interactions. He was director of the department 1989-1992 and organized in 1993 the second international conference on "Magnetoelectric Interaction Phenomena in Crystals" (MEIPIC-2), which took place in Ascona, Switzerland. In his over 500 times cited contribution to this conference he coined the term "multiferroic" to describe crystals that show at least two of the three properties ferroelectric, ferromagnetic and ferroelastic [2]. This conference stimulated interest in multiferroic materials, which have become a very active field of research.

Hans Schmid successfully continued research also after his emeritation in 1996, especially on multiferroic properties in the perovskite BiFeO3 and in LiMPO4 (M = Fe, Co. Ni). In his introduction to a special journal issue on "Multiferroic materials and heterostructures" [3] he reviews the development and present state of research on multiferroics and looks at its promising future. A list of his publications, updated to May 6, 2013, can be found at:

The undersigned got to know Hans Schmid during their common time at Battelle. He is very grateful to him for many valuable research proposals and for being invited to help organizing MEIPIC-2. He likes to remember Hans Schmid as a most helpful, generous, fair and friendly colleague. Thanks are due also to Dr. Jean-Pierre Rivera for his unfailing help in preparing this obituary.

Hans Grimmer, Paul Scherrer Institut


[1] H. Schmid, "The Dice-Stone, der Würfelstein: Some personal souvenirs around the discovery of the first ferromagnetic ferroelectric", Ferroelectrics427 (2012) 1-33.
[2] H. Schmid, "Multi-ferroic magnetoelectrics", Ferroelectrics162 (1994) 317-338.
[3] H. Schmid, "Preamble", Comptes Rendus Physique, 16 (2015) 141-142.


[Released: July 2015]