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Horst Stormer is Columbia's latest Nobel Prize winner


Nobel prize winner Horst Stormer is flanked by admiring students shortly after his award was announced.

photo: Eileen Barroso

Robert K. Merton Photo: Sandra Still

HOORAY FOR HORST: Physics professor Horst Stormer won the 1998 Nobel Prize for Physics, joining three other Nobel laureates on the physics faculty and becoming the 59th winner who has attended or taught at Columbia. The German-born Stormer came to the University a year ago from Lucent Technologies’ Bell Laboratories, where he made the prize-winning discovery in 1982 with two other scientists, with whom he is sharing the prize.

They discovered what is called “fractional quantum Hall effect,” which has to do with the charge of electrons. Normally each electron has the same fundamental unit of charge. These scientists observed that in certain clusterings of electrons, there can be fractional amounts of that charge rather than a full one.

Physicists liken the discovery to that of superconductivity, saying it is the discovery of a new state of matter. It may revolutionize microelectronics, making possible smaller and faster computer chips.

This semester, Stormer is teaching an undergraduate seminar in the physics department. Last semester he taught an undergraduate seminar in applied physics in the Engineering school that is required for students majoring in that field.

“While I made the discovery at Lucent, I came to Columbia to help bridge the differences between industry and academia,” Stormer said. “I think we are succeeding.”

HONORED: Professors Edward “Ted” Tayler and Irene Bloom were presented with the Sixth Annual Distinguished Service to the Core Curriculum Award on November 12 at the Heyman Center for the Humanities. Tayler, who is the Lionel Trilling Professor in the Humanities, developed Logic and Rhetoric, the writing component of the Core, and has taught the course since 1986. Bloom is the chair of the University Committee on Asia and the Middle East. Recipients of the award have demonstrated service to the College community by chairing one of the Core courses, serving on Core committees, giving lectures and seminars or publishing articles on the Core’s contribution to the undergraduate experience. They are selected by the Administrative Committee of the Heyman Center.

TREAT FOR TRICK: A Columbia psychology professor and graduate student are the first to get monkeys to work with numbers and they believe this shows that the monkeys are thinking even if they are not using language.

Professor of Psychology Herbert Terrace and Elizabeth Brannon, a Columbia graduate student in psychology, trained two male rhesus monkeys, named Rosencrantz and Macduff, to arrange pictures of a different number of objects in ascending order. Up to nine pictures appeared on a touch-sensitive computer screen, for example a picture of one triangle, two bananas, three hearts, etc. When the monkeys touched the randomly placed pictures in the right order, they were rewarded with banana-flavored pellets.

“It’s like using your password to get money from a cash machine, but it’s harder for the monkeys,” Terrace said. “When you go to a cash machine, you don’t have to deal with the numbers being in strange positions each time. We don’t have direct evidence yet, but it seems likely that these monkeys can count.” Professor Terrace, a former student of B.F. Skinner at Harvard, is known for his experiment in the mid-1970s in which he taught a chimpanzee, Nim Chimpsky, to use sign language. Although Chimpsky learned 125 signs, Terrace concluded that the animal was not using the language to create unique sentences. The researchers believe that number skills evolved before human speech, and in continuing the experiments hope to show that human intelligence can be traced to animal origins.

The results appeared in the October 23 issue of the journal Science.

ROLE MODEL: Recognized for originating such common phrases as “self-fulfilling prophecy,” “role model” and “deviant behavior,” the Columbia sociologist Robert K. Merton was recently identified in a New York Times article as “one of the most influential sociologists, if not one of the most influential theorists, in America.” The first sociologist to receive the National Medal of Science Award (in 1994), Merton is credited with establishing the basic theories of the “ethos of science.”

HONORED: English professor David Kastan is the recipient of The Association for Theatre in Higher Education’s 1998 research award for a book-length study in theatre practice and pedagogy. The award, which he received for his A New History of Early English Drama, was announced during the association’s national conference in San Antonio in August.

GUEST EDITOR: Eric Foner ’63, the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History and author of the recently published book, The Story of American Freedom, was the guest editor of the December 14 issue of The Nation. Foner and Randall Kennedy, professor of law at Harvard, edited a special section of essays under the umbrella title “Reclaiming Integration.” Noting that integration “has lately fallen into disuse or disfavor,” Foner and Kennedy wrote that their goal was “to rekindle critical discussion of integration by examining whether it remains, 30 years after the end of the civil rights era, a desirable goal and a viable political strategy.” Among those contributing essays was Daryl Michael Scott, associate professor of history at Columbia and author of Contempt and Pity: Social Policy and the Image of the Damaged Black People, 1880-1996.