An Audience with Nanotechnology Nobel Prize Laureates

Audio recordings of press conference with Binnig and Rohrer reveal both humility and determination


As promised last week, I would like to share some audio recordings I made of Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer taking questions from the press during the opening of the new IBM and ETH Zurich nanotechnology laboratory named in their honor.

This first audio file features both Binnig’s and Rohrer’s response to my question of why they were interested in looking at inhomogenities on surfaces in the first place, which led them eventually to creating an instrument for doing it. A more complete history of the STM’s genesis can be found in their joint Nobel lecture here.

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I was always curious why Gerd Binnig conveyed in his interview with Harry Goldstein here in the pages of Spectrum the sense his designs for the STM would work when nearly every indication he had seemed to point to it simply wouldn't.

The answer is interesting because not only do we see how large a factor intuition plays in scientific inquiry, but we get an interesting sort of engineering/science hybrid approach in which it is perhaps more important to show why something won't work rather than why it should. It also simply reveals Binnig's determination not to give up.

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The final question here comes from another member of the press who asks both Binnig and Rohrer how it feels to have in a sense crystalized the development of the field of nanotechnology. Binnig sees that what the STM created grew beyond what he could have imagined and Rohrer points to all the contributions from other scientists that made this breakthrough possible.

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With the STM standing as such a cornerstone for the development of nanotechnology over the last 25 years, one can imagine that both these scientists have become accustomed to fielding all sorts of questions of what their contribution has meant. Even still they remain patient with questions from people like me that they have answered many times before and they still manage to make you feel as though it is the first time they are considering the idea. It was a great privilege.

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IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.