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.

Palo Alto Weekly
Friday, October 16, 1998

Stanford Physicist is Fourth in a Row to Win Nobel Prize

by Don Kazak

With Stanford physicists winning Nobel Prizes for their work three years in a row, Robert Laughlin joked that it felt like being "the only guy on your block without one."

Laughlin now has one, extending the streak by Stanford physicists for a fourth year.

The genial, 47-year-old professor won the big prize for work he did in the early 1980s with two other scientists at Bell Laboratories. Their work proved that the electrons in a semiconductor could be forced to behave like a liquid made of quasi-particle, but with smaller electric charges.

The discovery, called the fractional quantum Hall effect, has no immediate practical applications, but it took scientists a step farther down the road in understanding the universe.

"All of us want to understand the universe and why it behaves like it does," Laughlin told a news conference packed with reporters and photographers on Tuesday morning, just hours after he was awakened by a middle-of-the-night phone call from Sweden informing him he was a winner.

Because his own telephone doesn't ring - "Mr. Physicist can't fix his phones," Laughlin quipped - he had to take the call on his son's Mickey Mouse telephone.

Laughlin's two colleagues at Bell Labs, Horst Stormer of Columbia University and Daniel Tsui of Princeton University, shared the prize with him and will share the $978,000 in prize money.

An ebullient Stanford President Gerhard Casper told reporters that the prize, shared by Laughlin and foreign-born scientists, proves his belief that American universities have attracted the best minds in the world. Stormer is German and Tsui is Chinese.

Laughlin used the opportunity to decry the decline of the famous Bell Labs, a world-wide center for physics research in the 1980s before, he said, the telephone company all but dismantled it.

"Stanford is a wonderful place, but it doesn't have all the resources" that the huge telephone company did, Laughlin said.

Stanford has aggressively recruited Laughlin and other top physicists over the last decade or so, building up formidable departments of physics and applied physics.

"It takes many, many decades to build up a superb research lab like Bell was," Casper said, just as it has taken decades for Stanford to achieve its current prominence. "If we don't support (academic excellence), it can disappear very quickly," Casper said.

The three previous Stanford Nobel physics winners were Steven Chu (1997), Douglas Osheroff (1996), and Martin Perl (1995). Stanford now has 14 Nobel laureates on its faculty, including two at the Hoover Institution. Five other Stanford Nobel laureates, including Linus Pauling, are deceased.

Laughlin is a native Californian who grew up in Visalia. He received his bachelor's degree in math from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1972 and a doctorate in physics from MIT in 1979. He has been on the Stanford faculty since 1985.

He and his wive, Anita Rhona Perry, have two sons, Nathaniel and Todd.

In other Nobel news, a formed Stanford physician was one of the three Americans to share the Nobel Prize for medicine. Ferid Murad, chairman of the department of integrative biology, pharmacology and physiology at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School, shared the prize for his work on nitric oxide.

Murad, 62, was a Stanford professor in the School of Medicine from 1981 to 1989, and served as the chief of medicine at the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Medical Center from 1981 to 1986. Murad was the acting chairman of the department of medicine at Stanford from 1986 to 1988.