Take it from Dr. Klaus von Klitzing: an unexpected epiphany at 2 a.m. can lead to winning a Nobel Prize.
Von Klitzing addressed around 150 members of the U-M community Wednesday in the Rackham Amphitheatre as this year’s speaker for the LSA Physics Department’s prestigious Ta-You Wu lecture, an annual event that brings Nobel laureates and other prominent leaders in the field on campus. Over 100 additional viewers livestreamed the lecture remotely.
Von Klitzing received the 1985 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the quantum Hall effect in February 1980. He said his discovery came late at night when he normally worked.
“A lot of scientists work at night because there’s less noise,” von Klitzing said. “So this is a true story I can tell you.”
The QHE is a variation of the general Hall effect, a fundamental physics principle that explains how the movement of electrons creates a voltage, meaning a difference in charge between two points on a circuit when an electrical conductor exists within a magnetic field. Von Klitzing’s quantized version of the Hall effect makes measurements of this voltage more precise.
Von Klitzing was originally selected as the 2020 Ta-You Wu lecturer, but his address had to be postponed a full year due to COVID-19. Von Klitzing’s lecture was the 29th Ta-You Wu lecture to be held at the University of Michigan, with the most recent being 2018 Nobel laureate Donna Strickland’s.
Von Klitzing said he was particularly honored to have been invited to give the Ta-You Wu lecture since he received his Nobel Prize 36 years ago. He displayed the list of past Ta-You Wu lecturers for attendees, highlighting how most of the past Nobel laureate speakers presented to the University one to three years after receiving their Nobel Prize. He said he previously read Ta-You Wu’s “Quantum Mechanics” textbook and thinks Wu would have enjoyed the topic of his lecture.
“My … connection is that in my office you’ll find (Wu’s) book,” von Klitzing said.
Director of the Applied Physics Program and LSA physics professor Cagliyan Kurdak told The Michigan Daily he has attended the Ta-You Wu lectures every year since he started working at the University. After not having a new lecture in 2020, Kurdak said attending von Klitzing’s lecture in person on Wednesday was particularly exciting. Kurdak said he has previously heard von Klitzing speak at other physics conferences, and emphasized how revolutionary von Klitzing’s work has been for the field.
“The impact of the quantum Hall effect on modern physics is growing every year,” Kurdak said. “Seeing a lot of my graduate students in the audience to hear about this topic from (the person who discovered it) was wonderful.”
Yuze Liu, electrical and computer engineering doctoral student, was one of the students in attendance. Liu told The Daily it was incredibly inspiring to hear a Nobel laureate talk about the process of discovering physics concepts, getting work published and seeing the impact of that work overtime.
“I realized that those Nobel Laureates tend to focus on something more theoretical and high-level than just basic physics,” Liu said.
Daily Staff Reporter Roni Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.