K. Alex Müller Biography

Karl Alexander Müller is a Swiss solid-state physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1987 for his work on superconductivity.

K. Alex Müller
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K. Alex Müller
Quick Facts

Birthday: April 20, 1927

Nationality: Swiss

Famous: Physicists Swiss Men

Age: 93 Years, 93 Year Old Males

Sun Sign: Aries

Also Known As: Karl Alexander Muller, K. A Muller, Karl Alexander Müller

Born in: Basel

Famous as: Physicist


Spouse/Ex-: Ingeborg Marie Louise Winkler

father: Paul Müller

mother: Irma (née Feigenbaum)

children: Eric, Sylvia

City: Basel, Switzerland

discoveries/inventions: High-temperature Superconductivity

More Facts

education: ETH Zurich

awards: 1987 - Nobel Prize in Physics
1986 - Marcel Benoist Prize

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Karl Alexander Müller is a Swiss solid-state physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1987 for his work on superconductivity. Interested in electronics from a very young age, he involved himself in building radios as a student and honed his skills. A liberal and intellectually demanding school life coupled with encouragement from his family developed his aptitude effectively. Had it not been for a professor who recognized his potential in physics, the world of science would have been quite different today. The early 1980s was a time of intense research and learning for him and he collaborated with many notable physicists and scientists. His discovery of materials that work as superconductors at high temperatures opened up new doors to large-scale applications of superconductors that were once deemed impossible. Over the course of his long career he has worked for several organizations including the Battelle Memorial Institute in Geneva, the University of Zürich, and IBM. His work on superconductors at the IBM lab prompted the company to honor him with a fellowship.
Childhood & Early Life
K. Alex Müller was born in Basel, Switzerland on April 20, 1927, to Irma Feigenbaum and Paul Müller. After his birth, the family moved to Salzburg, Austria. The family lived there for a few years while his father studied music.
Müller and his mother moved to Dornach to live with his grandparents. Later, they moved to Lugano where he attended school and learned Italian.
His mother died in 1938 when he was 11 years old. He and his father then moved to Schiers, in the eastern part of Switzerland.
At Schiers, he was enrolled in the Evangelical College from 1938 to 1945. He graduated with his baccalaureate (Matura).
He showed an early fascination with radio and electronics which was supported by his wealthy family. He was also active in sports with a particular interest in alpine skiing.
His teacher, Dr. Saurer, who recognized his abilities, persuaded him to take up physics instead of electrical engineering. He joined the Physics and Mathematics Department of the “Swiss Federal Institute of Technology” (ETH) in Zürich.
Under Prof. G. Busch, he worked on his diploma on the “Hall Effect” of gray tin. After receiving his Diplom, he worked for a year and became an assistant to Prof. Busch and started to work on his Ph.D. His thesis was on paramagnetic resonance (EPR) and he received his doctorate in 1958.
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When he was 19 years old, K. Alex Müller did his basic military training in the Swiss Army. He worked for a year in the Department of Industrial Research (AFIF) of the ETH after his diploma.
He joined the Battelle Memorial Institute in Geneva in 1958 and soon became the manager of a magnetic resonance group. He held on to the post till 1963.
In 1963, he joined the research staff at the IBM Zurich Research Laboratory, Ruschlikon and continued there until his retirement. He began studying the properties of a class of compounds called ‘perovskites’, with Walter Berlinger. His research spanned for over 15 years and made significant contributions to the world of Physics.
The University of Geneva made him a Professor in 1970 where he worked in parallel with IBM. His work with perovskites boosted his reputation with the IBM lab and he was made the head of the laboratory's physics department in 1972.
During an 18-month sabbatical in the United States, he began working on solid-state physics and superconductivity. He returned to Ruschlikon in 1980 and continued his work.
In 1982, he was made an IBM fellow that allowed him to work on his chosen projects. This move made him resign from his post as manager at the Battelle Memorial Institute in Geneva in 1985.
His field of interest, superconductors, was calling out to him and he began to devote his time to its research. In 1983, he and J. Georg Bednorz began preparing perovskite compounds containing nickel to superconduct at higher temperatures. After a lot of research, in 1986, they came up with samples of the Ba-La-Cu oxide and tested numerous results to prove their resultsf or superconductors at high temperatures.
In 1986, they published the discovery in ‘Zeitschrift für Physik B’. Their research was confirmed independently by different scholars. This led to the 1987 Woodstock of Physics session with Müller being a featured presenter.
Their efforts were rewarded in 1987 with the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on “superconductivity in ceramic materials”. He continued to work on superconductivity ceramics at IBM Labs.
More honors came his way the following years. He was elected as a Foreign Associate Member of the Academy of Sciences in the United States in 1989.
Except for a two-year stint at IBM's “Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, he has been working at the “IBM Zürich Research Laboratory” in Rüschlikon.
Major Works
K. Alex Müller worked with Georg Bednorz to test superconductivity at higher temperatures and achieved it in 1986. Though skeptical at first, many physicists began to embrace this discovery due to its large-scale practical applications. This led to a session, now known as the Woodstock of Physics, which dealt with these properties of superconductors and their numerous applications.
Awards & Achievements
His research and discovery of “superconductivity in ceramic materials” was rewarded with a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1987. He shared the prize with his colleague, Georg Bednorz.
The University of Pavia in Italy awarded him an honorary degree in 1987. The same year he received the Wilhelm Exner Medal.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1956, Müller married Ingeborg Marie Louise Winkler. Two children were born to them; a boy in 1957 and a girl in 1960. His son, Eric, is a dentist, and his daughter, Silvia, is a kindergarten teacher.
He has often cited that his wife is the main driving force in his life with 30 years of encouragement. She has always shown an interest in his work and been a good companion and mentor, he states.
His Nobel win is notable for the shortest time between a discovery and the award presentation. His discovery was published in 1986 and he received the prize in 1987.

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