Laughlin, Robert B. 1950-

views updated

LAUGHLIN, Robert B. 1950-


Born November 1, 1950, in Visalia, CA; father, a lawyer; mother, a schoolteacher; married Anita Rhona Perry, April 22, 1979; children: Nathaniel David, Todd William. Education: University of California, Berkeley, A.B., 1972; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ph.D., 1979.


Office—Department of Physics, LAM Rm. 342, Lomita Mall, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. E-mail[email protected].


Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, CA, research scientist, 1982; Stanford University, Stanford, CA, associate professor, 1985-89, professor of applied physics, 1989-2004; Bass Professor of Humanities, 1992, professor, 2006—; Asia Pacific Center for Theoretical Physics, Pohang University of Science and Technology, North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea, director, 2004-06; Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Daejeon, South Korea, president, 2004-06. Eastman Kodak lecturer, 1989; Van Kleck lecturer, 1997. Military service: Served in U.S. Army, 1972-73; stationed in Germany.


American Physical Society (fellow), National Academy of Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Postdoctoral fellowships at Bell Telephone Laboratories and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; IBM fellow, 1976-78; E.O. Lawrence Award for physics, 1985; Oliver E. Buckley Prize, American Physical Society, 1986; Benjamin Franklin Medal, 1998; Nobel Prize in Physics (joint winner), 1998.


A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Editor of The Theory of Everything: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and The Middle Way: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, both 2000; contributor to academic journals, including Nuclear Physics and Advanced Physics.


Research scientist Robert B. Laughlin was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1998, an honor he shared with Daniel C. Tsui and Horst Stoermer for their "discovery of a new form of quantum fluid with fractionally charged excitations." Laughlin began his career at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and has spent most of his academic life at Stanford University. From 2004 to 2006 Laughlin was president of the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Daejeon, South Korea. While there he published his A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down. Here, Laughlin questions various assumptions about modern physics in areas that include nanotechnology, quantum mechanics, and the Big Bang theory. He contends that by examining physical phenomena on the smallest of scales, we lose sight of how matter behaves collectively, his idea being that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Laughlin demonstrates his theories regarding emergent properties by examining a blob of paint and then standing back to see how this tiny segment fits into the beautiful fields of flowers painted by Renoir and Monet. He disagrees with the way in which strict reductionists come to their conclusions based solely on the atoms, quarks, and strings which make up our universe.

In the realm of living things, processes, reproduction and healing for example, he adds another dimension to the mystery of matter. Laughlin examines unpredictability through physics, as well as biology. Commonweal reviewer Michael H. Barnes wrote of Laughlin: "All the way from quantum events up to atomic and molecular activity, to conductivity and superconductivity, in fact all the way to gravity, whatever that really is, we can measure and we can predict, but much of the time we do not really understand why these patterns should exist or do exist." New Scientist reviewer Michael Brooks wrote of A Different Universe that "Laughlin has an appealing, anarchic kind of sanity, and his company through this vivid and entertaining book is inspirational. A Different Universe should be required reading for physics researchers, teachers and students."



Notable Scientists: From 1900 to the Present, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.


Commonweal, October 7, 2005, Michael H. Barnes, review of A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down, p. 23.

New Scientist, February 26, 2005, Michael Brooks, review of A Different Universe, p. 54.

New York Times Book Review, June 19, 2005, Keay Davidson, review of A Different Universe, p. 19.

Publishers Weekly, review of A Different Universe, p. 54.

Science News, April 2, 2005, review of A Different Universe, p. 223.


Nobel Prize Online, (July 28, 2006), autobiography by Laughlin.

Stanford University Web site, (July 5, 2006), faculty profile on Laughlin.*