The Small Frontier

Date: 28 January 2010
Speaker: Dr Don Eigler


We have the extraordinary good fortune to witness and experience a time of change so rapid and sweeping in scope and impact that it will no doubt become ranked among the great revolutions in mankind's history. The information revolution is having a transformative impact on nearly every human endeavor. When we take a close look at what has made this progress possible we find a common theme: the ability to build ever-smaller structures. How far can this era of miniaturization take us and what will be the consequences? We will begin to form partial answers to this question by examining the ultimate limit of miniaturization: building things atom-by-atom from the bottom up. We will see how this is done and explore its utility in allowing us to learn about the nanometer-scale world...the Small Frontier.

Speaker Bio

Dr Don Eigler

IBM Fellow
IBM Almaden Research Center

Dr Don Eigler, IBM Fellow at the IBM Almaden Research Center, is a physicist who specializes in studying the physics of surfaces and nanometer-scale structures. In late 1989, using the liquid-helium-temperature scanning tunneling microscope that he had built, Dr Eigler demonstrated for the first time the ability to build structures at the atomic level by spelling out “I-B-M” with individual xenon atoms.

Since then, Dr Eigler has led an active group of scientists in a series of experiments aimed at extending basic knowledge about the physics of atomic-scale structures and exploring the potential for atomic-scale logic and data-storage technologies. The group’s results include discovering that magnetic impurity atoms alter the electronic structure of superconductors over a surprisingly short range, measuring for the first time how electrical conductance through single- and double-atom wires varies with element, inventing a new kind of electron trap called a “quantum corral”, demonstrating the ability to image electron density waves on metal surfaces, and inventing an atomic-scale switch.

Dr Eigler received his bachelor’s degree in physics in 1975 and doctorate in physics in 1984 from the University of California at San Diego. He was a Postdoctoral Member of the Technical Staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories for two years before joining IBM as a Research Staff Member in 1986. In 1993, Dr Eigler was named an IBM Fellow, the highest technical honor in the corporation.

Dr Eigler is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has claimed many prestigious awards, including the Grand Award for Science and Technology in Popular Science magazine’s Best of What’s New competition in 1990 and the Dannie Heineman Prize from the Goettingen Academy of Sciences in Germany in 1995. In 1999, he became the first winner of the Nanoscience Prize.