Horst Ludwig Störmer is a German-born American physicist who was one of the co-recipients of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physics for his contribution to the discovery of a new form of quantum fluid with fractionally charged excitations. He spent several years working at Bell Labs with another prominent scientist, Daniel Tsui, with whom he conducted the experiments on the quantum Hall effect. Born into a middle-class, close-knit family in Germany, he grew up building castles and other structures as a child which demonstrated his early aptitude for both physics and architecture. After completing his schooling, he decided to study architecture but changed his mind mid-way and shifted to mathematics and physics. After graduating from the University of Frankfurt he proceeded to earn a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Stuttgart after completing his doctoral work under Prof. Hans-Joachim Queisser. He soon moved to the United States to take up a job at the Bell Labs, the research arm of American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T). It was here that he became acquainted with Daniel Tsui, an expert on two-dimensional electron systems in silicon. The two men collaborated to perform important research on the quantum Hall effect which eventually led to the discovery of the fractional quantum Hall effect.
Childhood & Early Life
Horst Ludwig Störmer was born on April 6, 1949, in Frankfurt, Germany. His forefathers had been farmers, inn-keepers, blacksmiths, carpenters and shop keepers in the region. He had one brother and his parents were very particular that the children get good education, an opportunity they had been denied themselves.
He grew up in the circle of an extended family and spent his childhood building sand castles and cardboard tents with his brother and cousins. He entered a gymnasium at the age of ten to begin his studies. While he performed well in science and mathematics, he fared poorly in languages. He also excelled in sports, particularly in track and field.
He performed various scientific experiments as a teenager and even lost a part of his thumb in an accident resulting from an explosion. He passed high school with average grades and started to study architecture at the Technical High School in Darmstadt.
Within a few months he realized that architecture was not for him and shifted to study mathematics and physics at the J.W. Goethe-Universität at Frankfurt am Main. He completed the thesis for his diploma in Professor Werner Martienssen's Physical Institute where he was supervised by Prof. Eckhardt Hoenig. Here he also got the chance to work alongside another future Nobel laureate, Gerd Binnig.
He moved to France for his doctorate and worked in a laboratory which was run jointly between the French CNRS and the German Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research. He wrote a thesis on investigations of electron hole droplets subject to high magnetic fields under the guidance of Prof. Hans-Joachim Queisser, and was awarded a PhD by the University of Stuttgart in 1977.
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While working on his doctorate, Horst Ludwig Störmer was advised by Prof. Queisser to move to the United States and work for Bell Labs, the research arm of American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T). Encouraged by his mentor, Störmer moved to Bell Labs in June 1977.
His initial research at the labs was on modulation-doping which earned him a permanent position at Bell Labs in the fall of 1978. Soon joined by his long-time assistant, Kirk Baldwin, he proceeded to conduct many physics experiments that paved the way for many optical experiments on two-dimensional electron systems.
At that time, Daniel Tsui—one of the world's leading experts on two-dimensional electron systems in silicon—was already working with Bell Labs. Störmer was already acquainted with Tsui and the two men formed a long-term professional collaboration and personal friendship.
The men began researching on the quantum Hall effect which had recently been discovered in 1980 by Klaus von Klitzing. Another topic of their research was the electron crystal, which was theoretically predicted to form in very low electron density samples in very high magnetic field.
The duo observed the Hall effect in semiconductors at temperatures close to absolute zero and under extremely powerful magnetic fields. They made an interesting observation in 1982 and by chance discovered the fractional quantum Hall effect. The following year, American physicist Robert B. Laughlin provided the explanation for this phenomenon by proposing that the electrons in the powerful magnetic fields form a quantum fluid made up of quasi-particles that have fractional electric charges.
Störmer was promoted to head the department for Electronic and Optical Properties of Solids in 1983 and as director of the Physical Research Laboratory in 1991. His career at the Bell Labs was a very exciting one, but he had always thought of becoming a teacher one day. He stepped down from his position in 1997 to pursue his passion and joined Columbia University in 1998 as a Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, while remaining Adjunct Physics Director at Bell Labs on a part-time basis.
Horst Ludwig Störmer is best known for his invention of modulation doping, a method for making extremely high mobility two dimensional electron systems in semiconductors. This laid the foundation for the future observation of the fractional quantum Hall effect which Störmer made in collaboration with Daniel Tsui.
Awards & Achievements
In 1998, Horst L. Störmer, Robert B. Laughlin, and Daniel C. Tsui were awarded jointly the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics for the discovery of the fractional quantum hall effect. Later the same year, the trio was awarded jointly the Nobel Prize in Physics "for their discovery of a new form of quantum fluid with fractionally charged excitations."
Personal Life & Legacy
He met Dominique Parchet while working on his PhD and later married her.