Gerd Binnig: 1986 - Physics

Gerd Binnig
Gerd Binnig

Year & Category

1986 Nobel Prize in Physics (jointly with Heinrich Rohrer, Switzerland; they shared the divided Prize with the German Ernst Ruska who was honoured “for his fundamental work in electron optics, and for the design of the first electron microscope”)

Prize motivation

“For their design of the scanning tunnelling microscope”

At the time of the award he worked at

IBM Zurich Research Laboratory, Rüschlikon, Switzerland

About his research

He opened up totally new perspectives: Gerd Binnig was honoured with the Nobel Prize in Physics for his trailblazing development of the scanning tunnelling microscope.
Jointly with Swiss researcher Heinrich Rohrer, Gerd Binnig developed the scanning tunnelling microscope, without which contemporary nanotechnology would be inconceivable. The two scientists’ breakthrough is considered a milestone in the history of microscopy.

Images of atomic resolution
The performance of the optical microscope, which was developed in the 17th century, is restricted by the wavelength of light. The electron microscope, which was developed by Ernst Ruska in 1933, suffers from problems resulting from a comparably high susceptibility to aberrations. The scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) that Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer presented in 1981 has proved much more trouble-free. The STM “feels” the sample under investigation. An extremely fine, conductive needle scans the surface of the sample – with a minimal distance between its tip and the sample. Electrons “tunnel” across this gap. Since the tip of the needle often only consists of a single atom, images of atomic resolution become possible. The invention of the STM opened up opportunities in the most diverse applications – ranging from insights into the miniaturisation of electronic components and a better understanding of how batteries work to basic biological research.

Innovative analysis techniques
The STM is considered the forerunner of all scanning probe microscopes (including the atomic force microscope, which was also co-invented by Binnig). These devices are routinely used today to examine everything from semiconductor elements, archaeological artefacts to hard drives. Gerd Binnig is now concentrating on innovative image analysis techniques: his Definiens company specialises in the fields of life sciences and health care.

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