Swiss Nobel Prize-winning physicists dies at 79

Heinrich Rohrer

Swiss physicist and ETH-Zurich alumnus Heinrich Rohrer died May 16 at
his home in Wollerau, Switzerland. He is most known for his
collaborative work with Gerd Binnig in developing the scanning
tunnelling microscope, for which they both received the Nobel Prize in 1986.

Rohrer studied physics at ETH Zurich from 1951 to 1955 – more by chance
than anything else, as he often said. His professors included Wolfgang Pauli and
Paul Scherrer. In 1960 Rohrer completed a doctorate at ETH Zurich with a
project on length variations in superconductors. After a stint as an assistant,
he transferred to Rutgers University (USA) in 1961 to do a postdoc on
superconductivity. Two years later the thirty-year-old returned to Switzerland,
joining the IBM research laboratory in Rüschlikon.
At IBM, between 1979 and 1981, he succeeded in creating the scanning
tunnelling microscope with Gerd Binnig. This non-optic instrument
revolutionised microscopy and was important for the targeted manipulation and
modification of individual molecules and nanostructures and their application
in physics, electronics, chemistry, biology and medicine. Rohrer and Binnig
subsequently received numerous high honours and accolades, including the Nobel
Prize for Physics in 1986, which they shared with Ernst Ruska. Rohrer obtained
various other awards for his research and honorary doctorates from numerous
universities in Europe, the USA and Asia. In the course of his career, he also
climbed the ladder at IBM: he became Chairman of the IBM Department of Physics
and was made an IBM Fellow after his Nobel Prize.

Father of nanotechnology

Although Rohrer retired in 1997, he remained scientifically active and
took on various research assignments all over the world. In his later work, he
focussed on nanotechnology, playing a major role in developing the invention of
the scanning tunnelling microscope. Two years ago, Heinrich Rohrer was a guest of honour when IBM and ETH Zurich opened
their joint Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Centre, which was named after the two “fathers of nanotechnology” (cf. ETH Life report from
Heinrich Rohrer passed away last week after a long illness, as his
family announced at the weekend.
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