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.

Visalia Times-Delta
Wednesday, October 14, 1998

Nobel Prize Goes to Former Visalian

Robert Laughlin was always one in the hit books.

Friends remember the 1968 Redwood High graduate as studious, as poring over textbooks on the bus to and from swim meets. They remember his dedication, his drive to master everything from water polo to Russian.

It's no wonder, they said, that their classmate is one of this years Nobel Prize for physics.

"He was so dedicated to perfection in everything he did," said Bruce McDermott, the former Visalia police chief who was on the Redwood water polo and swim teams with Laughlin. "I think that was probably the secret to his success."

The 47-year-old professor at Stanford University was awarded the prize along with Columbia Störmer and Princeton University professor Daniel C. Tsui.

Laughlin was able to devise a theory that explained the results of their 1982 experiments experiments in quantum physics. The team will divide $978,000 in prize money.

"It's just so utterly and completely astounding to think we know a Nobel Prize winner," said Fran Taylor, who's family has been close to Laughlin's since 1958.

Taylor, who now lives in Lafayette, said she sat beside Laughlin in her high school physics class.

"I'm sure he must have copied something from my paper," she joked. "I think we always knew. He was just very clever. His family was always bursting with brains."

Laughlin's sister, San Mateo attorney Margaret Laughlin Martin, said her older brother set up a set of pulleys in there Willis street house as a boy. He used it to haul projects to his room.

"He was always tinkering with things," she said. "He used to melt things in tuna cans in the garage."

She remembers when the family took him to the emergency room after a science experiment backfired. He spilled molted metal on his hand.

Laughlin is also a bit quirky, she said.

While teaching at Berkeley, he tested his students by asking them to calculate the impact of a pot roast on a planet if ejected into outer space.

Laughlin went on to serve in the U.S. Army, then completed Ph.D. studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Laughlin's Nobel Prize was awarded for his work in 1983, when he discovered that electrons acting collectively in strong magnetic fields behave like liquid, with particles one-third the charge that electrons normally have.

The full charge of an electron is considered fundamental, so the discovery of smaller charges was a breakthrough.

He is now one of the 10 Nobel laureates teaching at Stanford. While he's not teaching, Laughlin composes piano sonatas. He played his own music two years ago at a reception dinner for the California Supreme Court.

"It's nice to see that one of our own - and by that I don't mean just Redwood High School but the city of Visalia - has reached that level," Principal Dan Leppek said.

The 1968 yearbook, the "Log," reveals Laughlin was an active student, participating in the Russian Club, American Field Studies, Block R clubs, California Scholastic Federation as well as other activities, including water polo and swim teams.

McDermott describes his fellow swim team as a reserve but genuine friend. He said Laughlin's seriousness would catch him by surprise. Take the way he swam laps to warm up for practice.

"A lot of us would cheat - we'd cut the 60 laps short, but Bob would count them out as he went by each time," McDermott said.

Wayne Wundram, a Visalia chiropractor, graduated a year after Laughlin and remembers him from water polo team.

"He was a very intelligent fellow, very meticulous and clean cut," he said. "I don't have any recollection of him being a social butterfly or anything. He was kind of a private person."

A civics teacher at Redwood who coached the swim team, Frank Bell also remembers Laughlin.

"He was one of those unusual people because of his drive for grades and knowledge," Bell said. "He had his priorities straight."