Nobel Prize-winning physicist Heinrich Rohrer has died at the age of 79.
According to a New York Times obituary, Rohrer died last Thursday night or Friday morning in Wollerau, Switzerland. His family has stated that he died of natural causes.
Rohrer studied physics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology during the 1950s, where he studied superconductors. In 1963 he joined IBM, where he began working out of the company’s research laboratory in Rüschlikon, Switzerland.
In 1981 Rohrer and his colleague Gerd Binning unveiled the first-ever scanning tunneling microscope at an IBM research facility in Zürich. The technology enabled physicists to image individual atoms and other structures at the atomic level. For their discovery, Rohrer and Binning were awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physics, which they shared with German physicist Ernst Ruska, who designed the first electron microscope.
The scanning tunneling microscope has since been used for the study viruses, creating silicon chips, and many other applications. Its design has also been improved upon, allowing scientists to manipulate atoms and atomic structures. In addition to a large portion of modern atomic science, things such as IBM’s recently released “World’s Smallest Movie” would not have been possible without the invention of the scanning tunneling microscope.