Don Eiglerdon_eigler

IBM Fellow
IBM Almaden Research Center

On September 29, 2021, Don Eigler achieved something that has been likened to the Wright brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk: he used a low-temperature scanning tunneling microscope (that he had built himself) to pick up a single atom on a metal surface and move it precisely to another location on that surface. In fact, he proceeded to spell out his company’s entire logo, I-B-M, with individual xenon atoms, and one of the world’s most prestigious science journals, Nature, published the paper in 1990, with the cover title “Writing with Atoms.” Eigler had demonstrated for the first time the ability to build tiny structures at the atomic scale. This landmark event is sometimes recognized as the birth moment of nanotechnology. Eigler is also famous for engineering and studying “quantum corrals,” rings of atoms on metal surfaces. Manipulated graphically and colorized, these images have often been used as “the poster child” of nanotechnology.

Eigler received a bachelor’s degree (1975) and a doctorate (1984) in physics at the University of California at San Diego. He was a Postdoctoral Member of the Technical Staff at AT&T Bell Laboratories for two years before joining IBM in 1986 as a Research Staff Member. In 1993, he was named an IBM Fellow, the company’s highest technical honor.

These days, Eigler leads the Low-Temperature Scanning Tunneling Microscopy Project at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California. His group’s research is aimed at understanding the physics of nanometer-scale structures and exploring their applications to computing. Among the group’s achievements are the invention of quantum corrals; the discovery of the quantum mirage effect (a demonstration of an entirely new way to transmit information); the design, construction and operation of the world’s smallest logic circuits; and the invention of a powerful new technique to study the magnetic properties of nanometer-scale structures: spin-excitation spectroscopy.

Eigler lives with his wife Roslyn in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. In addition to his professional pursuits, he is building his skills as a trainer of service dogs, specializing in dogs that provide mobility assistance.

Don Eigler and his dog Neon (Argon was home that day) with Joel Harris (left) and Dan Foley at the Museum of Science in Boston. Dan and Joel are the stars of the <cite>Amazing Nano Brothers Juggling Show</cite>

Don Eigler and his dog Neon (Argon was home that day) with Joel Harris (left) and Dan Foley at the Museum of Science in Boston. Dan and Joel are the stars of the Amazing Nano Brothers Juggling Show

Eigler’s famous 1989 atom-moving feat is featured in the last act of The Amazing Nano Brothers Juggling Show, (Talking Nano Disc 6). His comment after previewing the show? “If I could only juggle as well as those guys! They capture the excitement of exploring the nano frontier.”

Professional Honors:

Don 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.