W. H. Bragg Lecture 2007

The Small Frontier
Presented by Dr Don Eigler, IBM Fellow
IBM Almaden Research Center

Wednesday 17 October 2007, 16:30
University College London in the Harrie Massey Lecture Theatre

followed by a reception with light refreshments


For  more than twenty years, the scanning tunneling microscope has given us a kind of virtual presence in the world of atoms. This wonderful instrument not only allows us to "see" the atomic and electronic landscape, but we also can use it to build structures of our own design with individual atoms as the building blocks. In this presentation I will describe how the microscope works and give some examples of how we use it to  broaden our knowledge of the physical properties of nanometer-scale structures. I will show examples of our efforts to explore ways in which future computation might be performed using atomic-scale components.


Dr. Don Eigler 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 was educated at the University of California at San Diego, where he received a bachelor's degree in physics (1975) and a doctorate in physics (1984). 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. In 1990, he received the Grand Award for Science and Technology in Popular Science magazine's Best of What's New competition. His group received the '93-'94 Newcomb Cleveland Prize given by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for the best paper published in Science magazine that academic year. He was the Alexander Cruickshank Lecturer in Physical Science at the 1994 Gordon Research Conferences. In 1995, the Goettingen Academy of Sciences in Germany awarded Dr. Eigler the Dannie Heineman Prize, which is awarded biennially for distinguished scientific achievements in natural science. In 1998, Dr. Eigler was named the Outstanding Alumnus of the Year by the University of California at San Diego Alumni Association. In 1999, he became the first winner of the Nanoscience Prize, which he received at the Fifth International Conference on Atomically Controlled Surfaces, Interfaces, and Nanostructures. [from the IBM Almaden website]

About the W.H. Bragg Lecture

In 2004 UCL's Department of Physics and Astronomy decided to establish a series of annual lectures celebrating major advances in condensed matter physics. The series was named after William Henry Bragg, who was the Head of Department from 1915 to 1923. X-ray diffraction analysis of crystal structures began with W. H. Bragg’s instrumentation and insight, and with the availability of synchrotron sources it has developed into an important tool in modern biology. The inaugural lecture was given by Wayne Hendrickson, followed by Jens Als-Nielsen (2005) and David Moncton (2006).
Information poster [PDF file]

Venue: to go to  the Harrie Massey Lecture Theatre please enter UCL through the gate adjacent to number 3 Gower Place. Alternatively go to  the back of the UCL Union & Mathematics building on 25 Gordon Street.