UCSB Engineering

November 14, 2000

Four U.S. Researchers Awarded Nobel

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) — A Russian and two U.S.-based researchers won the Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday for work that helped create modern information technology, leading to everyday devices like pocket calculators, CD players and cell phones.

Also Tuesday, the chemistry prize went to two Americans and a Japanese scientist for their discoveries that plastic can be made electrically conductive. The work by winners Alan J. Heeger, Alan G. MacDiarmid and Hideki Shirakawa has spurred improvements in film, TV screens and windows and could eventually lead to a host of new technologies, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

``The physics prizes are about the electronics of today and the chemistry prizes are about the electronics of the future,'' academy member Per Ahlberg said.

In physics, Zhores I. Alferov of the A.F. Ioffe Physico-Technical Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Herbert Kroemer, a German-born researcher at the University of California at Santa Barbara, will share half the prize for work in developing technology used in satellite communications and cellular phones.

Jack Kilby, 76, of Texas Instruments in Dallas will get the other half for his part in the invention and development of the integrated circuit, the forerunner of the microchip, and as a co-inventor of the pocket calculator.

The prize this year is worth $915,000.

Hermann Grimmeiss, a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said the work of the three men had been invaluable in the development of modern information technology.

``Without Kilby it would not have been possible to build the personal computers we have today, and without Alferov it would not be possible to transfer all the information from satellites down to the earth or to have so many telephone lines between cities,'' Grimmeiss said.

The academy in this year's selections cited scientists for their work in a practical realm instead of more esoteric branches of physics like subatomic particles and quantum physics that have been honored the previous two years.

Kroemer and Alferov, 70, were cited as being early leaders in semiconductor research that has been used in mobile phones and satellite links. The same technology is used to build laser diodes, which drive the flow of information on the Internet and are found in compact disc players, bar-code readers and laser pointers.

Kilby's work led to the microchip, which has ``led to our environment being flooded with small electronic apparatuses, anything from electronic watches and TV games to mini-calculators and personal computers,'' according to the citation.

Reached by phone at his institute in St. Petersburg, Alferov said, ``My colleagues and I are now going to uncork a bottle of champagne and celebrate.''

Asked whether he expected the honor, he said, ``Not really, but maybe a very little bit.''

The three winners were cited for work done independently.

In chemistry, laureates Heeger, MacDiarmid and Shirakawa will share the $915,000 prize for the ``discovery and development of conductive polymers,'' according to the academy's citation.

Heeger, 64, of the University of California at Santa Barbara, MacDiarmid, 73, of the University of Pennsylvania and Shirakawa, 64, of the University of Tsukuba learned that plastics can, with modifications, be made to conduct electricity as well as insulate.

The three developed conductive polymers that have been used to reduce static electricity and interference on photographic film and computer screens. The plastics have also been used in the development of new color television screens and ``smart windows'' that reflect sunlight.

The joint work of the three researchers in Philadelphia also led to the development of light-emitting diodes in plastics. The so-called ``brilliant plastics'' could eventually produce flat television screens and luminous traffic and information signs that don't need bulbs, the academy said.

``This (research) will open up entirely new areas that we've only seen the beginning of,'' Ahlberg said.

A week of Nobel awards started Monday with the naming of Arvid Carlsson of Sweden, Paul Greengard and Eric Kandel of the United States, as the winners of this year's medicine prize for discoveries about how messages are transmitted between brain cells, leading to treatments of Parkinson's disease and depression.

The economics prize was to be announced Wednesday and the literature prize on Thursday in Stockholm. The coveted peace prize will be awarded Friday in Oslo, Norway.

Alfred Nobel, the wealthy Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite, endowed the physics, chemistry, literature, medicine and peace prizes in his will but left only vague guidelines for the selection committees. The economics prize was first awarded in 1969.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which also chooses the physics and economics winners, invited nominations from previous recipients and experts in the fields before whittling down its choices, but deliberations are conducted in strict privacy.

Ahmed Zewail, an Egyptian-American, won last year's chemistry prize for pioneering the use of rapid-fire laser flashes that illuminate the motion of atoms in a molecule.

The prizes always are presented Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896.


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