Douglas D. Osheroff
The Nobel Prize in Physics 1996
Born: 1 August 1945, Aberdeen, WA, USA
Affiliation at the time of the award: Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA
Prize motivation: “for their discovery of superfluidity in helium-3”
Prize share: 1/3
Douglas Osheroff was born in Aberdeen, Washington, into a family with Eastern European roots and many medical professionals. He became interested in science early and engaged in dangerous experiments in his free time. He studied at Caltech, an inspiring environment where Richard Feynman lectured, and continued his education at Cornell, where he studied low temperature physics and met his wife, Phyllis Liu. After a subsequent 15 years at Bell Labs, he moved to Stanford to pursue his talent as a teacher.
When certain substances are cooled to extremely low temperatures, they become superfluid, flowing without any friction. This applies to helium-4, the most common form of helium, but for a long time the superfluidity of helium-3 was in dispute. The different types of helium are described by different quantum mechanical rules and equations under which helium-4 has a whole-number spin while helium-3 has a half-number spin. In 1972 Douglas Osheroff, David Lee and Robert Richardson verified that helium-3 also becomes superfluid at extremely low temperatures.