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  • Apr 20, 1927
    (b.) - ?

Bio/Description

A Swiss physicist and Nobel laureate, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1987 with Georg Bednorz for their work in superconductivity in ceramic materials. In 1986 they showed that a mixture of barium, lanthanum, copper, and oxygen attained superconductivity (disappearance of electrical resistance at extremely low temperatures) at 35 K. While this is almost unimaginably cold, it was substantially higher than temperatures at which superconductivity had been previously observed in any other materials. The article announcing their discovery was published in September 1986, and thirteen months later, in 1987, they were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics - the shortest time between the discovery and the prize award for any scientific Nobel. Born in Basel, Switzerland, to Irma (née Feigenbaum) and Paul Müller, his family immediately moved to Salzburg, Austria, where his father was studying music. He and his mother then moved to Dornach, near Basel, to the home of his grandparents. Then they moved to Lugano, in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, where he learned to speak Italian fluently. His mother died when he was 11 after which time he was sent to school at the Evangelical College in Schiers, in the eastern part of Switzerland, where he studied from 1938 to 1945, obtaining his baccalaureate (Matura). He is a Calvinist. He then enrolled in the Physics and Mathematics Department of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zürich. For his undergraduate diploma work, he studied under G. Busch and worked on the Hall Effect in gray tin, a semimetal. He took courses by Wolfgang Pauli, who made a deep impression on him. After receiving his Diplom, between his undergraduate degree and beginning his graduate studies, he worked for one year in the Department of Industrial Research at ETH on the Eidophor large-scale display system. In 1958 he earned his Ph.D. at ETH; having submitted his thesis at the end of 1957. In the spring of 1956 he married Ingeborg Marie Louise Winkler. They had a son, Eric, in the summer of 1957, and a daughter, Silvia, in 1959. He joined the Battelle Memorial Institute in Geneva, soon becoming the manager of a magnetic resonance group. During this time he became a lecturer at the University of Zürich. In 1963 he accepted an offer as a research staff member at the IBM Zürich Research Laboratory in Rüschlikon, where he remained until his retirement in 1972. At IBM his research for almost 15 years centered on SrTiO3 (strontium titanate) and related perovskite compounds. He studied their photochromic properties when doped with various transition-metal ions; their chemical binding, ferroelectric and soft-mode properties; and the critical and multicritical phenomena of their structural phase transitions. Important highlights of this research have been published in a book, “Properties of Perovskites and Other Oxides” (2010), written together with Tom Kool from the University of Amsterdam (publisher: World Scientific). In parallel, he maintained his affiliation with the University of Zurich where he was appointed Professor in 1970. From 1972 to 1985 he was manager of the ZRL physics department. In 1982 he became an IBM Fellow. He received an honorary doctorate from Technical University of Munich and University of Geneva. In 1987 (before winning the Nobel Prize) he got an honorary degree (laurea honoris causa) in Physics from the University of Pavia. In the early 1980s, he began searching for substances that would become superconductive at higher temperatures. The highest critical temperature (Tc) attainable at that time was about 23 K. In 1983 he recruited his former student J. Georg Bednorz to IBM, to help systematically test various oxides. A few recent studies had indicated these materials might superconduct. In 1986 the two succeeded in achieving superconductivity in lanthanum barium copper oxide (LBCO) at a temperature of 35 K. Over the previous 75 years the critical temperature had risen from 11 K in 1911 to 23 K in 1973 where it had remained for 13 years. Thus 35 K was incredibly high by the prevailing standards of superconductivity research. This discovery stimulated a great deal of additional research in high-temperature superconductivity, leading to the discovery of compounds such as BSCCO (Tc = 107 K) and YBCO (T'c = 92 K). They reported their discovery in the April 1986 issue of ‘’Zeitschrift für Physik’’. Before the end of the year, Shoji Tanaka at the University of Tokyo and then Paul Chu at the University of Houston had each independently confirmed their result. He was a featured presenter at the 1987 "Woodstock of physics" after Chu achieved superconductivity at 93 K in YBCO, which triggered a stampede of scientific interest.
  • Date of Birth:

    Apr 20, 1927
  • Noted For:

    Co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1987 with Georg Bednorz for their work in superconductivity in ceramic materials
  • Category of Achievement:

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