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Alan J. Heeger

  • Born: January 22, 1936, Sioux City, Iowa

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0337
Interview Dates: March 13, 2006 and March 16, 2006
Location: Santa Barbara, California
Interviewer: Cyrus Mody
No. of pages: 75
Sponsor: Nanotechnology

  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 Ph.D. 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.


1957 B.S. with high distinction, Physics and Mathematics, University of Nebraska
1961 Ph.D., Physics, University of California, Berkeley

  Professional Experience

University of Pennsylvania

1962 - 1964 Assistant Professor

University of Pennsylvania

1964 - 1967 Associate Professor

University of Pennsylvania

1967 - 1982 Professor

University of Pennsylvania

1974 - 1981 Director, Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter

University of Pennsylvania

1981 - 1982 Acting Vice Provost for Research

University of California, Santa Barbara

1982 - 1999 Director, Institute for Polymers and Organic Solids

University of Geneva

1968 - 1969 Visiting Professor of Physics

University of California, Santa Barbara

1982 - Present Professor of Physics

University of California, Santa Barbara

1987 - Present Professor of Materials (Engineering)

University of Utah

1988 - Present Adjunct Professor of Physics

UNIAX Corporation

1990 - 1994 Founder and President

UNIAX Corporation

1994 - Present Chief Scientist, Chairman of the Board


1963 - 1967 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow
1968 - 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 (h.c.), Université d'État à Mons, Belgium
1995 Balzan Prize, "Science of New Materials," Bern, Switzerland
1996 Doctor of Technology (h.c.), University of Linköping, Sweden
1996 Doctor of Technology (h.c.), Abo Akademi University, Finland
1999 Doctor of Humane Letters (h.c.), University of Massachusetts at Lowell
1999 Doctor of Science (h.c.), University of Nebraska
2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
2000 Institute of Physics Fellow, UK
2001 Doctor of Science (h.c.), Japan Advanced Institute for Science and Technology
2001 Doctor of Science (h.c), 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 (h.c.), Bar-Ilan University, Israel
2001 Presidential Chair, University of California, Santa Barbara
2002 National Academy of Engineering (USA)
2005 Doctor of Science (h.c.), Trinity College, Dublin
2005 Albert Einstein Honorary Chair Professor, Chinese Academy of Sciences

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

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 Ph.D. 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 Interviewers

Cyrus 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 Ph.D. 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.

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