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How advances in science are made
PARC Forum

30 October 2008
George E. Pake Auditorium, PARC

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How advances in science are made, and how they may come to benefit mankind at large are complex issues. The discoveries that most influence the way we think about nature seldom can be anticipated, and frequently the applications for new technologies developed to probe a specific characteristic of nature are also seldom clear, even to the inventors of these technologies.. One thing is most clear: Seldom are such advances made by individuals alone. Rather, they result from the progress of the scientific community; asking questions, developing new technologies to answer those questions, and sharing their results and their ideas with others. However, there are indeed research strategies that can substantially increase the probability of one's making a discovery, and the speaker will illustrate some of these strategies in the context of a number of well known discoveries, including the work he did as a graduate student, for which he shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1996.


Douglas Osheroff was born and raised in Aberdeen, Washington, a logging town in the Pacific Northwest. There he attended public schools. He did his undergraduate work at Caltech, receiving his B.S. in physics in 1967. His graduate work was done at Cornell University, where his Ph.D. thesis work resulted in the discovery of three superfluid phases of liqud 3He. These phases are neutral analogs to the superconductors, but with greater complexity in their order. Leaving Cornell in the fall of 1972, he spent the next fifteen years in the Physical Research Division at AT&T Bell Laboratories, the last six as the head of their Low Temperature and Solid State Research Department. Here, in collaboration, he worked on the newly discovered superfluid phases of liquid 3He, determined the nature of nuclear spin order in solid 3He, and made the first observations of weak localization in thin disordered metallic films. In 1987 he came to Stanford University, where he is the J.G. Jackson and C.J. Wood Professor of Physics and the Gerhard Casper University Fellow for Undergraduate Education. Here his research still focuses on the properties of condensed matter near the absolute zero of temperature. He has also served as chair of the Physics Department at Stanford from 1993-96, and again from 2001-04. In 2003 he served as a member of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, which determined the causes of the accident that led to the destruction of Space Shuttle Columbia during re-entry on February 1, 2003.

Osheroff has received numerous awards for his research. These include the Sir Francis Simon Memorial Award, the Oliver E. Buckley Condensed Matter Physics Prize, the MacArthur Prize Fellowship Award, and the 1996 Nobel Prize for Physics. In 1991 Stanford University gave him their Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. Douglas and his wife Phyllis enjoy classical music, hiking and photography.


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