Materials Research Activities


IBM Research in the 1980s

Binnig and Rohrer developed the STM at the IBM research laboratory in Zurich. It was one of three such research labs, the other two being in Yorktown Heights, New York, and Almaden, California.

These laboratories naturally focused on areas of science and technology of real or potential interest to the company. But within that framework, IBM and particularly its senior vice president and chief scientist, Ralph E. Gomory, aimed to encourage innovation by allowing technical professionals to take high risks and on occasion to fail. In addition to the STM, the IBM labs were able to chalk up several other considerable research successes. Benoit Mandelbrot developed fractal geometry at Yorktown Heights. In January 1986, K. Alex Mueller and J. Georg Bednorz discovered a new class of ceramic oxide superconducting materials with critical temperatures far above those previously known. Following the fabrication at Yorktown of the first superconducting devices cooled by (comparatively cheap) liquid nitrogen, scientists there demonstrated that the new ceramic oxides carried 100 times more electrical current than had been believed.

Of course IBM sought to innovate within computer technology proper also. IBM invented the RISC (reduced instruction set computer) computer architecture in the 1970s and introduced the PC. In software, relational databases was a prime area of research effort.

Under Ralph Gomory, IBM also maintained close contact with universities for instance by hosting visiting scientists, sponsoring international sabbaticals, and contributing to conferences and professional societies. In this way, IBM also facilitated recruitment of younger promising scientists. Gerd Binnig is a case in point.

(Source: "Scientist of the Year: Ralph E. Gomory - IBM's chief scientist has led one of the world's most productive R&D organizations", Research & Development, October 1987, 96-97)

This page was last updated by Arne Hessenbruch on 12-feb-01.