Nobel Newspaper Article

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

This is one of several newspaper articles related to Prof. Laughlin's 1998 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Lawrence Livermore Newsline
Friday, 16 October 1998

Laboratory Has 'Large Claim' to Laughlin's Winning the Nobel Prize for Physics

By Stephen Wampler

The Lab's strength as a DOE research facility bringing together scientists in different disciplines means a little more to Robert Laughlin than to many people.

That's because the Lab's multi-disciplinary forte gave Laughlin a helping hand 15 years ago as he did the scientific research that earned him a three-way Nobel Prize for physics this week.

A professor of physics at Stanford University and a researcher who has been associated with LLNL for 17 years, Laughlin shared the 1998 Nobel Prize with Horst Stormer of Columbia University and Daniel Tsui of Princeton University.

In 1983, Laughlin provided the explanation for the experimental findings of Stormer and Tsui, who discovered the so-called fractional quantum Hall effect. The key surprise of the fractional quantum Hall effect is that collective motions of electrons can behave like a fraction of a given electrical charge for one electron. Previously, the only clear example of fractional charges in the laboratory had been quarks.

"We are extremely pleased and proud of Bob Laughlin's Nobel Prize," said U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson Thursday. "His theoretical research provided an elegant and simple solution to a very complex scientific puzzle."

For the University of California, Laughlin is the 11th recipient of a Nobel Prize in physics.

Lab Director Bruce Tarter extended "tremendous congratulations" to Laughlin, whom he described as an intellectually "provocative and stimulating" scientist.

"The Laboratory obviously has a large claim to me winning the Nobel Prize," Laughlin said Wednesday. "I did the work when I was out there, and being at the Lab helped me significantly."

After working for Bell Laboratories, Laughlin was hired in 1981 by H Division (the condensed matter physics division) to model "warm" matter at solid density for weapons design purposes. He was housed in a low security area of the Lab, also called the "cooler," as his clearance was processed.

It was there that Laughlin, a solid state physicist, was visited by his H Division colleagues, people like Forrest Rogers, Hugh DeWitt, Dave Young and Marvin Ross, who taught him plasma physics and the mathematics of classical hot liquids.

During his six months in the "cooler," Laughlin learned how to make computer models of fluids, the experimental literature of fluids and Monte Carlo simulation methods.

"These things were important to me because when I was thinking about the possibilities for the quantum Hall wave function, I realized that it was a fluid problem," Laughlin recalls.

"I wouldn't have seen that if I hadn't been interacting with my fellow H Division physicists. It was just a lucky break that I was around researchers who understood fluids."

In retrospect, Laughlin says the Laboratory's "cross-cultural" mixing, or multi-disciplinary approach to science proved extremely useful to him in his scientific career.

"It is my opinion that the national labs, and Livermore in particular, have tremendous potential for making important scientific contributions," Laughlin said. "With my own history as a case in point, what is required to fully realize this potential is more scientific freedom at the lower levels."

While some experts think the fractional quantum Hall effect research could produce advances in computers or power-generation, Laughlin sees the main value of his work as revealing fundamental insights into quantum mechanics.

On Tuesday, the day Laughlin learned of his Nobel Prize, scientific colleagues from the Laboratory, the United States and around the world inundated his computer with more than 200 messages of congratulations.

"It was great. These are people that I respect and I'm honored that they contacted me. This is the support that really counts. It was like that old program, 'This Is Your Life.' You can learn a lot about my life by studying the list."

Laughlin, who continues his association with the Laboratory, garnered an E. O. Lawrence Award, given by the U.S. Department of Energy, in 1984.

Two years later, he captured the Oliver Buckley condensed Matter Physics Prize, the nation's most prestigious award in solid state physics.

Laughlin holds a bachelor of arts degree in mathematics UC Berkeley and his PhD in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was an IBM Fellow.