Materials Research Activities

B&R paper10 (SciAm1986)

Binnig & Rohrer, Paper 10 (Scientific American):

The final paper was published in August 1985 in Scientific American. This in itself is a measure of success. This journal, addressing the widest possible audience for science topics, would not have featured the STM, had it not been considered a trustworthy and newsworthy instrument. In terms of the Nobel Prize, the timing was auspicious too. At least one scientist will have nominated Binnig and Rohrer before 1 February 1986, the Nobel committee deadline. The paper itself explained the STM and floated promising applications. The explication was done with customary clarity (cf. image on the right).

Reproduced by permission of Ian Worpole.

Scientific American used the phrase ‘seeing' surfaces, which strictly speaking is of course untrue, but the phrase is a telling measure of confidence in the instrument). There were now three nested spring systems and eddy current damping for the elimination of any residual vibration. The promising applications included surface science, superconductivity, crystal structure analysis, and friction studies. The STM might also be deployed to analyse electronic circuitry and biological samples, such as DNA and viruses.

That is quite an impact for an instrument only 5 years old. It indicates the extraordinary power of the STM, of course. Nonetheless, Binnig and Rohrer might have been helped along in the negotiations within the Nobel committee (we can only speculate until the minutes will be released after 50 years, that is in 2036) by sharing the prize with Ruschka, the main developer of electron spectroscopy. Ruschka, Binnig, and Rohrer may have come to represent 20th-century material samples analysis in general, and the Nobel committee might have wanted to hurry before the 79-year old Ruschka died. The long list of utility in the Scientific American may also have played an important role, since Nobel's will specifies that the prize be given for work done in the previous year (fits Binnig and Rohrer, but not Ruschka) and that has benefited humanity the most. Arguably electron microscopy had benefited humanity already, but STM was still only at the prototype stage. For a thumbnail history of Scanning Probe Microscopy up to the current day, click here.

  • Introduction to Binnig & Rohrer's 1981-1986 publications

  • Paper 1 (Applied Physics Letters 1982)

  • Paper 2 (Physical Review Letters 1982)
  • Paper 3 (Surface Science 1982)
  • Paper 4 (Helvetica Physica Acta 1983)
  • Paper 5 (Surface Science Letters 1983)
  • Paper 6 (Physica 1984)
  • Paper 7 (Surface Science 1984)
  • Paper 8 (Surface Science Letters 1985)
  • Paper 9 (Europhysics Letters 1986)
  • Paper 10 (Scientific American 1986), you are here.
  • Interview with Binnig and Rohrer, to be featured soon - members may click here.

This page was last updated on 15 May 2001 by Arne Hessenbruch.