Physics, for Klaus von Klitzing, was a natural progression from a childhood fascination with mathematics. He was born in 1943, in what was then German- occupied Poland, and moved to West Germany after the war. His parents encouraged the young Klaus in his interest in maths, but at the Technical University of Brunswick, he says, he had a revelation. “I was a little bit disappointed how dire mathematics may be – you have no connection, sometimes, to the real world,” he explains. “I discovered that physics is a very nice field to use mathematics in a very efficient way. So, I changed direction to physics.” He graduated in 1969, and earned a doctorate in physics at the University of Wurzburg in 1972, with a thesis on galvanomagnetic properties of tellurium in strong magnetic fields. He stayed there for more than 11 years, carrying out additional research at the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford and High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Grenoble.
It was in Grenoble, in February 1980, that he made the discovery for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. He noticed that at low temperatures, electrical resistance in a magnetic field varied not in a smooth scale but in a series of precise jumps. The size of those jumps is directly related to the so-called fine-structure constant, which is just a number and can be interpreted as the ratio between the velocity of an electron in Bohr’s model of an atom to the speed of light. The discovery allows a connection of the electrical resistance to fundamental constants and is worldwide used for accurate calibrations of resistances. The ‘von Klitzing constant’, RK = h / e2 = 25812.80572(95)Ω, is named in honour of Klaus von Klitzing’s discovery of the Quantum Hall Effect. His experiments enabled other scientists to study the conducting properties of electronic components with extraordinary precision, vital in the field of computer science and other new technology.
Later in 1980 he became a professor at the Technical University of Munich, and in 1985, the year of his award, he became director of the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart. Over the years, he has won several scientific awards, received several honorary degrees, held memberships in various academic societies and published in numerous publications. Today, von Klitzing’s research focuses on the properties of low dimensional electronic systems, typically in low temperatures and in high magnetic fields. He is also interested in nano-science, bringing physics, chemistry and biology together, and says children should be encouraged from a very young age to take an interest in science and nature. “Children like to learn and ask questions”, he says. “In this they are like scientists. You
should not believe that scientists know everything – that they can do everything. Normally, there are more questions than answers.” “I want to show that this is a really wonderful world.”
This text and the picture of the Nobel Laureate were taken from the book: "NOBELS. Nobel Laureates photographed by Peter Badge" (WILEY-VCH, 2008).
By Volker Steger
Klaus von Klitzing discovered a physical constant that defines electrical resistance - but in my studio he wants to move!
(rumour has it that he is an excellent dancer!)
His enthusiasm is infectious, so our shooting turned into quite a little session…! Great for a photographer - but the people who really benefit from his energy are students of all ages: Klaus von Klitzing is a great science educator.