Swiss nanotechnology pioneer Heinrich Rohrer dies

May 24, 2013 at 8:00 PM   |   Comments

WOLLERAU, Switzerland, May 24 (UPI) -- Heinrich Rohrer, a Swiss nanotechnology pioneer who helped invent the scanning tunneling microscope to observe and manipulate individual atoms, has died.

An announcement Thursday from the IBM Research Laboratory in Zurich, where he had worked, said Rohrer died May 16 at his home in Wollerau, Switzerland, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Heinrich Rohrer and colleague Gerd Binnig invented their improved version of the original 1930s electron microscope, calling it a scanning tunneling microscope, while working at the Zurich lab and together received the 1986 Nobel Prize in physics, an award they shared with physicist Ernst Ruska, who designed the first electron microscope.

Rohrer and Binning were considered the fathers of nanotechnology -- the construction and manipulation of extremely small objects -- because their device could be used to move atoms around one at a time on a surface.

"The invention of the scanning tunneling microscope was a seminal moment in the history of science and information technology," John E. Kelly III, director of research at IBM, said in a statement. "This invention gave scientists the ability to image, measure and manipulate atoms for the first time, and opened new avenues for information technology that we are still pursuing today."

Heinrich Rohrer was born June 6, 1933, in the farming community of Buchs in Switzerland. His family moved to Zurich where Rohrer studied physics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, receiving his doctorate in 1960.

After a brief fellowship at Rutgers University, he joined the newly formed IBM Research Laboratory where he worked until 1997.

Rohrer is survived by his wife, two daughters and two grandchildren.

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