AT&T Bell Laboratories

Prof. Robert B. Laughlin
Department of Physics
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305

Murray Hill campus of Bell Laboratories.

This is part of Prof. Laughlin's professional history.

Prof. Laughlin spent two years at Bell Laboratories, birthplace of the transistor,as a postdoc. The parent company, American Telephone and Telegraph, was in the process of being broken up under antitrust laws at the time, so the Laboratory's personality and identity were unstable. The courts had just ordered the company to spin off its operating units, and part of the agreement was to split the research arm into two parts - one called "AT&T Bell Laboratories", owned by the long-distance service company AT&T, and the other called "Bellcore", owned jointly by the operating companies. The breakup was completed about the time Prof. Laughlin left.

Bell's history after the breakup was not a happy one. Shortly after the separation completed, Bellcore failed - with catastrophic consequences for the careers of many excellent scientists. Then, in 1995, AT&T decided to spin off its hardware operations completely into a new company, Lucent Technologies. Lucent did well for a while but, in the end, succumbed to the overcapacity problem in optical fiber industry. In 2006 it merged with a competitor, the French company Alcatel. The Bell Labs name still has mythic quality and still evokes hushed reverence in technological circles for the many important inventions it gave the world, but the institution itself has, for all practical purposes, passed into history.

The technical accomplishments of Bell were staggering. The better known ones include motion picture sound, the transistor, the transoceanic phone cable, the communications satellite and the laser. There are many more. The Laboratory's name is associated with six Nobel Prizes:

1998 D. C. Tsui, H. L. Störmer and R. B. Laughlin for discovery of the fractional quantum hall effect.
1997 S. Chu for the invention of laser cooling.
1978 A. Penzias and R. W. Wilson for discovery of the cosmic microwave background.
1977 P. W. Anderson for the theory of localization.
1978 J. Bardeen, W. H. Brattain and W. Schockley for the invention of the transistor.
1978 C. J. Davisson for the discovery of electron diffraction.

Prof. Laughlin meet many famous physicists during his time at Bell. Here is a partial list:

David V. Lang Inventor of Deep Level Transient Spectroscopy.
Kumar Patel Inventor of the Carbon Dioxide Laser.
Robert C. Dynes President of the University of California.
Philip W. Anderson Nobel laureate. Theory of quantum transport.
John M. Rowell Discoverer of the Josephson Effect.
Daniel C. Tsui Nobel laureate. Discoverer of the Fractional Quantum Hall Effect.
Horst L. Störmer Nobel laureate. Inventor of modulation doping.
Gregory S. Boebinger Director of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.
Arno A. Penzias Nobel laureate. Discoverer of the cosmic microwave background.
Mark J. Cardillo Executive Director, Henry Dreyfus Foundation.
Federico Capasso Inventor of the quantum cascade laser.
Martin P. Lepselter Inventor of the silicide schottky barrier.
Douglas D. Osheroff Nobel laureate. Discoverer of superfluid helium-3.