Oct. 15, 1998 MURRAY HILL, N.J. --The Nobel Prize in physics was awarded today (Oct. 13) to Horst Stormer, Adjunct Physics Director at Bell Labs, the research and development arm of Lucent Technologies, and two former Bell Labs scientists Robert C. Laughlin and Daniel C. Tsui for their work in quantum physics.
They were cited for their discovery of the fractional quantum-hall effect, a new state of matter created when electrons come together to form quasi-particles with exact fractions of electrical charges. The experimental work was done at Bell Labs in the early 1980s; the theory was explained later by Laughlin, after he became a professor at Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif.
Stormer, 49, is also a professor at Columbia University, in NewYork City, and Tsui is now a professor at Princeton University, N.J.
The announcement of today's Nobel Prize in physics brings to 11 the total number of Nobel Laureates who did their prize-winning work at Bell Labs.
"This is yet another reminder of the vital importance of research and breakthrough ideas that are so crucial to the future of communications," said Richard A. McGinn, chairman and CEO of Lucent Technologies. "We're proud of Horst and his colleagues Robert Laughlin and Daniel Tsui. We're proud of their accomplishments and we are proud that Bell Labs provided the environment that made their innovative work possible."
The discovery of the fractional quantum-hall effect is significant because researchers usually need to break up particles to make even smaller ones. "In this case," said Stormer, "the amazing thing is that by electrons cooperating with one another and not disintegrating, you get something smaller than the initial object."
The Nobel award cited their work as leading to "the development of new theoretical concepts of significance in many branches of modern physics." They will share the $978,000 prize.
All three were honored for their work earlier this year by the Franklin Institute, which awarded them its Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics.
"I'm just numb," said Stormer, whose ringing telephone awoke him and his wife and brought news of the award at about 6:00 a.m. today. "We finally had to take it off the hook," he said. "We live in Manhattan and sleep with ear plugs, so we missed the first few calls from people who hung up without leaving messages on our answering machine."
The first call they answered was from a German-speaking person who asked Stormer's wife, Dominique Parchet, if he could speak to Stormer about his winning the Nobel Prize, she thought it was a joke.
In speaking to an enthusiastic crowd of colleagues in the employee cafeteria at Lucent Technologies in Murray Hill today, Stormer said, "This kind of breakthrough could only have occurred in a place like Bell Labs. I share this with all of you."
Stormer and Tsui discovered the fractional quantum-hall effect, which occurs in a thin sheet of electrons inside a semiconductor, not unlike the electron sheet in a modern-day transistor. Under extreme conditions of temperature and magnetic field, the electron appears to break up into several identical pieces -- but this is due not to the disintegration of the electron, but to the motion of many electrons forming fractionally charged quasi-particles.
The particles possess exact fractions of electrical charges, such as one-third, one-fifth or one-seventh.
"A simple mathematical equation explains it all," said Stormer, who added that former Bell Labs colleague, Art Gossard was also involved in the work. "He grew the crystal sample for the experiments," said Stormer. Gossard is now at the University of California-Santa Barbara.
Stormer was born in Frankfurt, Germany, and earned his undergraduate and master's degrees in physics from Goethe-Universtaet in Frankfurt, and a doctoral degree in physics from the University of Stuttgart, Germany.
He began work at Bell Labs as a postdoctoral fellow in 1977, joining the company a year later as a member of the technical staff. He was named head of the Semiconductor Physics Research department in 1983, director of the Physical Research Lab in 1992, and adjunct physics director in 1977.
Stormer has received many honors for his technical achievements, including the Buckley Award from the American Physical Society in 1984 and the Otto Klung Physics Award of the Freie Universitat of Berlin, Germany in 1985. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
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