Forum Scientiarum

Robert B. Laughlin

The works of Robert B. Laughin are an essential antidote for the youngest products of some scholars, “who spread the idea that physics is a science of quasi-theological speculation about the nature of things”. With these words, the physicist Philip Anderson recommends Laughlin’s book “A Different Universe”. Already in his works for which Laughlin received the Nobel Prize in 1998, he had occupied himself with the self-organisation of matter. He demonstrated that electrons under certain circumstances condense to a quantum liquid and that its properties cannot be explained by the properties of the individual electrons. Similar effects can be found in biological systems. Laughlin describes this as “emergent” and would like to pay close attention to such phenomena.

For Laughlin the transitions from one organisational level to another are supposed to be only explainable by regulatory systems that have not yet been researched. For example, such regulatory systems have not been described for the nano level yet. Why do atoms in ice crystals take up preferred positions, even though they did not have a particular preference before? In this respect, Laughlin sees physics and its crossover with biology as very promising. This is how a physicists begins an interdisciplinary discussion about research methods.

Robert B. Laughlin, born in 1950, is a professor of Physics and Applied Physics at the University of Stanford. He earned his B.A. in Physics from the University of California at Berkeley where he did research on the theory of supraconductivity. In 1998, he was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in physics, together with Horst Ludwig Störmer and Daniel Chee Tsui, for his explanation of the fractional quantum Hall effect. He is Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

From 2004 until 2006, Laughlin was the president of the Technical University KAIST in South Korea. He gives lectures regularly at prestigious universities around the world. He was awarded with the Ernest O. Lawrence Award for Physics, the Benjamin Franklin Medal, the Oliver E. Buckley Prize and the Onsager Medal. The following work have been released in German: “Verbrechen der Venunft” 2008, “Abschied von der Weltformel” 2007.