Alan J. Heeger

Born: January 22, 1936 | Sioux City, IA, US

Upon receiving his PhD under Alan Portis, Alan Heeger took an assistant professorship at the University of Pennsylvania's physics department. At Penn Heeger's interests included spin-wave theory, metal physics, the Kondo problem, and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) in magnetic materials. Then in 1973, Heeger began investigating polysulfur nitride along with Alan MacDiarmid and Hideki Shirakawa that led to seminal publications on conducting polymers. After twenty years at the University of Pennsylvania, Heeger moved to the University of California at Santa Barbara's physics department, where he continued to conduct his research and collaboration with other scientists.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0337
No. of pages: 75
Minutes: 281

Interview Sessions

Cyrus C. M. Mody
13 and 16 March 2006
Santa Barbara, California

Abstract of Interview

Alan J. Heeger begins the interview by describing his early decision to attend college and reasons behind changing his major from electrical engineering to mathematics and physics at the University of Nebraska. After obtaining his undergraduate degree, Heeger enrolled in Cornell University to pursue his interest in theoretical physics. After one year Heeger moved and attended University of California at Berkeley and switched his focus to experimental physics. Upon receiving his PhD under Alan Portis, Heeger took an assistant professorship at the University of Pennsylvania's physics department. At Penn Heeger's interests included spin-wave theory, metal physics, the Kondo problem, and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) in magnetic materials. After achieving tenure, Heeger took a sabbatical at the University of Geneva to work on metal physics. Before leaving for Geneva, Heeger was introduced to TCNQ and shifted the focus of his research on that upon returning to the United States. Then in 1973, Heeger began investigating polysulfur nitride along with Alan MacDiarmid and Hideki Shirakawa that led to seminal publications on conducting polymers. After twenty years at the University of Pennsylvania, Heeger moved to the University of California at Santa Barbara's physics department, where he continued to conduct his research and collaboration with other scientists. Heeger concludes the interview by discussing thoughts of his role as a device physicist, and how he can best move technology development forward.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1957 University of Nebraska BS with high honors Physics and Mathematics
1961 University of California, Berkeley PhD Physics

Professional Experience

University of Pennsylvania

1962 to 1964
Assistant Professor
1964 to 1967
Associate Professor
1967 to 1982
Professor
1974 to 1981
Director, Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter
1981 to 1982
Acting Vice-Provost for Research

University of Geneva

1968 to 1969

University of California, Santa Barbara

1982 to 1999
Director, Institute for Polymers and Organic Solids
1982
Professor of Physics
1987
Professor of Materials (Engineering)

University of Utah

1988
Adjunct Professor of Physics

UNIAX Corporation

1990 to 1994
Founder and President
1994
Chief Scientist, Chairman of the Board

Honors

Year(s) Award
1963 to 1967

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow

1968 to 1969

John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellow

1968

American Physical Society Fellow

1983

Oliver E. Buckley Prize for Condensed Matter Physics

1989

John Scott Award

1992

Doctor of Science, Université d'Ètat à Mons, Belgium

1995

Balzan Prize, Science of New Materials, Bern, Switzerland

1996

Doctor of Technology, University of Linköping, Sweden

1996

Doctor of Technology, Abo Akademi University, Finland

1999

Doctor of Humane Letters, University of Massachusetts at Lowell

1999

Doctor of Science, University of Nebraska

2000

Nobel Prize in Chemistry

2000

Institute of Physics Fellow, UK

2001

Doctor of Science, Japan Advanced Institute for Science and Technology

2001

Doctor of Science, South China Institute of Science and Technology

2001

National Academy of Sciences (USA)

2001

President's Medal for Distinguished Achievement, University of Pennsylvania

2001

Chancellor's Medal, University of California, Santa Barbara

2001

Korean Academy of Science (Foreign Member)

2001

Doctor of Philosophy, Bar-Ilan University, Israel

2001

Presidential Chair, University of California, Santa Barbara

2002

National Academy of Engineering (USA)

2005

Doctor of Science, Trinity College, Dublin

2005

Albert Einstein Honorary Chair Professor, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Table of Contents

Family History and Early Life Experiences
1

Interest in science. Mother's influence on pursuing higher education. Deciding on a major. Developing hobbies. Thoughts on creativity.

Education
3

Undergraduate degree at University of Nebraska. Stint at Cornell University. Part time work at Lockheed Martin and graduate work at University of California at Berkeley. Pursuing a PhD in experimental physics full time with Alan Portis at Berkeley. Research affiliations with industrial research laboratories.

Career at University of Pennsylvania
20

Decision to stay in academia. Accepting a position at Penn. Role in recruitment and learning from Robert Schrieffer. Setting up research and finding funding. Publishing on Spin-wave theory. Thoughts on graduate and undergraduate teaching. Relationships with funding agencies and picking research projects. Summer research at Harwell, UK and one-year sabbatical at University of Geneva.

Professional Development
32

Learning about and interest in TCNQ. Research community and interest in TTF-TCNQ. Working with small crystals and scientific controversy. Origins of the controversy. Shifting into polysulfur nitride research.

Nobel Prize Winning Work
47

Reading Mort Labes' paper. Collaboration with Alan MacDiarmid. Saturday meetings with MacDiarmid to exchange knowledge. Lessons from TCNQ. Learning about polyacetylene from Hideki Shirakawa in Japan and bringing him to the US. Doping of polyacetylene. Learning about electrochemistry. Winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Career at University of California at Santa Barbara
61

Discussion about the polymer community. Administration position as Vice-Provost of Research. Decision to move to UCSB. Continued relationship with Alan MacDiarmid. Interaction with Schrieffer and other colleagues.

Concluding Thoughts
64

Thoughts on device physics. Commercial potentials and trying to move technology development forward.

Notes
66
Index
69

About the Interviewer

Cyrus C. M. Mody

Cyrus Mody is an assistant professor of history at Rice University. Prior to that position he was the manager of the Nanotechnology and Innovation Studies programs in the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and materials engineering from Harvard University and a PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell. He was the 2004–2005 Gordon Cain Fellow at CHF before becoming a program manager. Mody has published widely on the history and sociology of materials science, instrumentation, and nanotechnology.