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Vol. 50, No. 21        October 23, 1998
[Sandia National Laboratories]

Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185-0165    ||   Livermore, California 94550-0969
Tonopah, Nevada; Nevada Test Site; Amarillo, Texas

Nobel connections: Sandia has ties to two 1998 Nobel laureates in physics and chemistry

Physics: Tsui taught, consults with Sandia microelectronics researchers

By Ken Frazier

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This year's Nobel Prize in physics was of special personal interest to several Sandia scientists working at the frontiers of microelectronics.

The physics Nobel Prize was awarded to Daniel Tsui of Princeton University, Horst Störmer of Columbia University and Bell Labs, and Robert Laughlin of Stanford University. They discovered that electrons acting together in strong magnetic fields can form new types of "particles" with charges that are fractions of electron charges.

Their specific Nobel citation is "for their discovery of a new form of quantum fluid with fractionally charged excitations." It is also known by researchers as the fractional quantum Hall effect. Tsui and Stormer made the discovery in 1982 in an experiment using extremely powerful magnetic fields and temperatures. Within the year, Laughlin had succeeded in explaining their result.

Tsui taught two prominent Sandia researchers and is a Sandia consultant who visits Albuquerque several times each year, according to Harry Weaver (1720), Deputy Director of Microsystems Science, Technology, and Components Center 1700.

Harry says Tsui, who is in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Princeton, has collaborated with researchers in Sandia's microelectronics area for several years.

"In addition to his fundamental work, he has provided understanding of the physics of rather practical devices," says Harry. "This device research contrasts strongly with the esoteric solid state physics problem he uncovered, which led to the Nobel award, and is evidence of his broad impact." Two of Tsui's former students are Sandians Jerry Simmons (1112) and Shawn Lin (1712). Both, Harry notes, have recently published discoveries of fundamentally new microelectronics devices. (Shawn was pictured on the front page of the Sept. 11 Lab News in an article about his development, with Sandia colleague Jim Fleming, of a working photonic crystal lattice. Jerry was featured in a front-page Lab News article Feb. 13 about development of a reproducible quantum mechanical transistor, the DELTT quantum transistor.)

Jerry, whose dissertation was on measuring the fractional charge of the quasiparticles in the fractional quantum Hall effect, continues to devote part of his time -- along with Jeon-Sun Moon (1112) -- to research in this area. While some of this work is done at Sandia, Jerry says much is done in collaboration with other former Tsui students and postdocs -- "the self-proclaimed Tsui Mafia," says Jerry -- including Lloyd Engel at the National High Magnetic Field Lab in Tallahassee and Rui Du at the University of Utah.

Also, Jerry says his group and Shawn's group have been collaborating a bit with Tsui on some aspects of the DELTT quantum transistor, and they have recently been preparing a joint paper on this work. Indeed, this past year Shawn provided Tsui an infrared laser specifically for this research. In addition to these connections, Bruce Draper (1721) is collaborating with Tsui's research group by building specially designed transistors in Sandia's Microelectronics Development Laboratory. Quantum effects observed in these devices have been submitted for publication, Harry says. "Dan is also a perfect gentleman," says Harry. "Often people of his stature have a degree of self- importance. But in Dan's case he is a really nice guy -- everybody likes him."

"Harry is absolutely right about Tsui," affirms Jerry. "It couldn't happen to a nicer, more unassuming guy!"

Last modified: October 26, 1998

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