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Inventors Scanning Tunneling Microscope - STM
Return to The History of Microscopes

Image of single atomic zig-zag chain of Cs atoms (red) on the GaAs(110) surfaceThe scanning tunneling microscope ( STM ) is widely used in both industrial and fundamental research to obtain atomic-scale images of metal surfaces. It provides a three-dimensional profile of the surface which is very useful for characterizing surface roughness, observing surface defects, and determining the size and conformation of molecules and aggregates on the surface. Several other recently developed scanning microscopies also use the scanning technology developed for the STM. A precursor instrument, the topografiner, was invented by Russell Young and colleagues between 1965 and 1971 at the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) [currently the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)].

Image of single atomic zig-zag chain of Cs atoms (red) on the GaAs(110) surface

Gerd BinnigGerd Binnig

IBM Press Release: Gerd Binnig, along with his colleague, Heinrich Rohrer, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in in 1986 for his work in scanning tunneling microscopy. Binnig and Rohrer were recognized for developing the powerful microscopy technique, which can form an image of individual atoms on a metal or semiconductor surface by scanning the tip of a needle overthe surface at a height of only a few atomic diameters. They shared the award with German scientist Ernst Ruska, designer of the first electron microscope.

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, on July 20, 1947, Dr. Binnig was educated at J.W. Goethe University in Frankfurt, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1973 and his doctorate degree in 1978. That year he joined a physics research group at IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory. Dr. Binnig was assigned to IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., from 1985 to 1986, and was a visiting professor at nearby Stanford University from 1987 to 1988.

Dr. Binnig was appointed an IBM Fellow in 1987 and remains a research staff member at IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory.

Heinrich RohrerHeinrich Rohrer

IBM Press Release: Born in Buchs, Switzerland, on June 6, 1933, Dr. Rohrer was educated at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1955 and his doctorate degree in 1960. After post-doctoral work at the Swiss Federal Institute and Rutgers University in the United States, Dr. Rohrer joined IBM's newly formed Zurich Research Laboratory, studying, among other things, Kondo materials and antiferromagnets before turning his attention to scanning tunneling microscopy. Dr. Rohrer was appointed an IBM Fellow in 1986, and was manager of the physical sciences department at the Zurich Research Laboratory from 1986 to 1988. He retired from IBM in July 1997.

Scanning Tunneling Microscope
Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer are the inventors of the scanning tunneling microscope (STM), invented in 1981, which provided the first images of individual atoms on the surfaces of materials. - National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Russell D. YoungRussell Young

Russell Young obtained his B.S. degree in physics from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1953 and his Ph.D. degree in physics from Pennsylvania State University in 1959. He remained at Penn State in the laboratory of Professor Erwin Mueller for his postdoctoral research, which was marked by several outstanding achievements. Among these were the development of a high resolution field emission energy analyzer and the first measurement of the total energy distribution of field emitted electrons, as well as contributions to the development of the low temperature field ion microscope. He came to the National Bureau of Standards in 1961. His development of the Topografiner was an outgrowth of his continued study of surfaces at NBS. After the termination of this project in 1971, he remained at NBS in both a technical and an administrative role until his retirement in 1981. Since then he has actively pursued his interests as an inventor, as a private consultant to industry and government (including NIST), and as a grandfather and a sailor.

Related Information
Adam Cohen
Invented the "electrochemical paintbrush", part of nanotechnology used in etching microchips.

Photos of Binnig and Rohrer Courtesy of International Business Machines Corporation. Unauthorized use not permitted.

©Mary Bellis

From Mary Bellis,
Your Guide to Inventors.
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