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In 1989, surgery for detached retinas left Gilbert Lonzarich blind for a month. Rather than feel shaken or depressed, the condensed-matter physicist at the University of Cambridge, UK, seized the opportunity, inviting his graduate students to his house to share with them how exciting it was to adapt to life without sight. Lonzarich's embrace of the experience perfectly captures his approach to life, says Andrew Mackenzie, then one of those students and now a director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids in Dresden, Germany. “Gil is one of the most positive people I've ever met. He finds interest in everything,” he says.

For more than 40 years, that optimism and curiosity
has led Lonzarich to probe materials in ways never thought possible. In pioneering experiments in the 1990s, his team showed that pushing magnetic compounds to extreme pressures and close to absolute zero can make some of them conduct electricity without resistance1. This flew in the face of convention, which declared that magnetism and superconductivity could never mix. “It was as if nowadays you were talking about finding aliens or something,” says Malte Grosche, a colleague at Cambridge.

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