The University of Chicago News Office
October 13, 1998 Press Contact: Steve Koppes
(773) 702-8366

University of Chicago Alumnus Daniel Tsui receives 1998 Nobel Prize in Physics

University of Chicago physics alumnus Daniel Tsui has received a share of the 1998 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on a new type of frictionless fluid made up of electrons. Tsui is the 70th Nobel laureate who is associated with the University as a student, faculty or researcher.

A professor in electrical engineering at Princeton University, Tsui received his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Chicago in 1967. He shares the Nobel physics prize with Robert Laughlin of Stanford University and Horst Stormer of Columbia University, for discovering that electrons, the building blocks of matter, interact with each other in new and unusual ways when subjected to a strong magnetic field.

All three researchers are condensed-matter physicists who study the characteristics of solids and fluids. Tsui and Stormer made their discovery in 1982 during an experiment at Bell Laboratories using extremely powerful magnetic fields and low temperatures. Within a year Laughlin, a theorist, succeeded in explaining their discovery.

University of Chicago physicists who know Tsui or who are familiar with his work say the 1982 discovery has influenced a wide range of subsequent physics research.

“It’s an interesting and rather exotic development that opened an entirely new field and created many interesting and important questions in physics,” said Woowon Kang, Assistant Professor in Physics. “It has stimulated many theoretical and experimental breakthroughs applicable to other fields in physics.”

Kang worked with Stormer as a postdoctoral researcher at Bell Laboratories from 1992-94, and still collaborates with him on projects directly related to the Nobel research. Thomas Rosenbaum, Professor in Physics, and director of the James Franck Institute, met Tsui when both worked at Bell Labs in the early 1980s.

“Tsui and Stormer developed new materials that were very clean and allowed a thin sheet of electrons to interact in new ways,” Rosenbaum said. “When electrons are in this environment, they actually become a fluid that is highly choreographed. You can think of them now as connected in different ways than they were able to be connected before.”

Under ordinary circumstances, the quantum behavior of electrons takes place on such a microscopically small scale that it is difficult to measure. But with the new materials that Stormer and Tsui developed, such behavior now can be observed macroscopically, on a large scale, Rosenbaum said.

“We’re talking about materials that you can hold in your hand, yet you see the manifestly quantum nature of the material,” he said.

These materials are akin to superfluids, which consist of electrons that exhibit no resistance to flow. Tsui conducted his doctoral research at Chicago on another type of superfluid composed of helium.

Helium gas forms a superfluid when it is cooled to just a fraction of a degree above absolute zero, which is minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Water is an ordinary fluid,” Kang said. “If you spill water across the table, it runs and then it stops. If you could ever do such an experiment with a superfluid, it would go on forever because it is frictionless.”
Last modified at 03:51 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

University of Chicago News Office
5801 South Ellis Avenue - Room 200
Chicago, Illinois 60637-1473
(773) 702-8360
Fax: (773) 702-8324
Contact Us