Douglas Osheroff





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in the This-is-important Genielistesince 27th April 2005
Update on 01st August 2005

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  • Douglas Dean Osheroff

    A cute one...!

    Yes, the first thing we knew about Douglas Dean Osheroff was that he got the Nobel price in Physics. But of course that was not enough to get on our ‘this-is-important genius-list’. So we started to do some intense research about him, contacted him and now he is one of the very first geniuses who made it!

    Well, Douglas Osheroff remembers me at a Teddy bear as a matter of fact. And in addition to being congenial and behaving with integrity and discretion – he knows what he wants – and goes for it. Besides being an excellent scientist he is also interested in environmental global behaviour and political topics. And he even admits that - and stands up for an global improvement personally!

    A true genius of the 21st century!

    Here is a short extract from my latest questionsandanswersseesaw with Douglas Osheroff.

    01.08.2005; Re: AW: Re: AW: Re: Questions (Dear Doug: Here are the answers on the questions you sent me some time ago)

    Dear Meike:

    I will only indicate that I find that human
    population and our ability to consume raw
    materials and to produce wastes has left us with
    a planet unable to cope with our consumption. I
    think the most pressing problem for mankind at
    present is to produce a renewable economy, and
    stop polluting our environment. Global warming
    is probably the most pressing problem,
    particularly with the development going on in
    China and India now. If our production of
    greenhouse gases leads to the melting of the
    polar ice caps, (including Greenland), we will
    be in very deep trouble.


    Curriculum vitae


    in Aberdeen, Washington State, United States on August 1st, 1945

    Marital Status:

    got married to Phyllis on August 14th 1970


    Stanford, California, United States


    Professor of Physics and Advanced Physics at Stanford University

    Douglas Dean Osheroff came as the second of five children from an ethically mixed family. His mother, a nurse, was the daughter of a Lutheran minister whose parents were from what is now Slovakia and his father, a medical, was the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia who inspired in him passions for photography and gardening. And when Doug was six years old he began tearing his toys apart to play with the electric motors. Even if Douglas grow pale at the sight of blood Little Doug was born in a very medical family - which made sense because his projects often involved an element of danger. But his parents never seemed too concerned, nor did they inhibit his scientific curiosity. Once a muzzle loading rifle he had built went off in the house, putting a hole through two walls and on another occasion a make-shift acetylene 'miners' lamp blew up and embedded shards of glass in the side of his face.

    So he seemed to have a very happy childhood.

    Getting older he studied physics at Caltech (California Institute of Technology) - where he was a student of Richard Feynman - and where he met Phyllis Liu, a young woman from Taiwan. Three years later they met again, and were married in 1970.

    1971 he discovered the superfluidity in helium-3 (3He) while he was graduate student at Caltech and received a Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1973.

    Phyllis and Doug moved to New Jersey in 1972 where Osheroff was Member of technical staff of AT&T Bell Laboratories till 1987 and continued his studies on 3He. He worked in the Head Solid State and Low Temperature Research Department for fifteen years.

    In 1987, he accepted a position at Stanford University. And since then Douglas Osheroff is Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford University. There he and his students have continued work on superfluid and solid 3He and have developed a program to study the low temperature properties of amorphous solids. He is very interested in his students and 1991 Stanford presented him their Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching.

    Beside that he is member of the board that investigated the Columbia shuttle accident.

    1996 Douglas Dean Osheroff got the Nobel prize for his discovery of "Superfluidity in Helium Three: The Discovery Through the Eyes of a Graduate Student". And the day he learned he was to receive the Nobel Prize, after just two and a half hours sleep the night before, he taught his class on the physics of photography, although the lecture was not on photographic lenses, but the discovery of superfluidity in 3He.

    Osheroff is participant of ‘Scientists and Engineers for Change’, a new political committee that believes research has been undermined and scientific integrity compromised by the Bush Administration. And he was one of 48 Nobel laureates who formally endorsed John Kerry. He is ‘Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ and ‘Member of the National Academy of Sciences’.

    Beside his studies and physics teaching he is giving talks about climate change and global warming and greenhouse gases - and was one of the first 500 people in the United Statesto purchase one of the new Honda Civic hybrids.

    Nobel prize
    1996 Douglas Dean Osheroff got the Nobel price for his discovery of "Superfluidity in Helium Three: The Discovery Through the Eyes of a Graduate Student".

    Together with David M. Lee and Robert C. Richardson Osheroff had found out that at a temperature of about two-thousandths of a degree above absolute zero (−459,7 °F, −273,15 °C) helium-3 isotope became superfluid, they lose their usual molecular pattern. They can defy gravity,  flow without losing energy to friction. And they can defy gravity by creeping up the walls or flowing up and out of the top of a beaker. Isn’t that cool!


    on learning

    "I want to know what is going on all the time. So I continually look for things that don't seem to fit."

    "As a child, I got into all kinds of things, many of which would get me into trouble with the FBI today!"

    "I tell my students that they are like my children. And Phyllis and I will come visit them when we're old!"

    on physics

    "I was drawn to the low-temperature work because it was so counter-intuitive. Who would expect a liquid to flow up and out of the top of a beaker?"

    "Then I knew we'd found something fundamental, I just didn't know what."

    "In the latest Calvin and Hobbes book, Calvin says, 'Treasure is everywhere.' And treasure is physics."

    "This prize just goes to show that you can make a mistake in physics, as long as you correct it yourself."

    on politics

    “Well, actually most of the people I've talked to; in fact, thank me for being willing to take a political position - most of the scientists, most of my colleagues here at Stanford.”

    on global clima

    “I was one of the first 500 people in the United States to purchase one of the new Honda Civic hybrids. It has cut my consumption of gasoline by a factor of 2.”

    “Well, my message certainly is that this administration is largely ignoring issues of greenhouse gases, global warming and these are very serious issues. At the end of my talk, I think people hopefully will be convinced that this administration is not doing an adequate job, it's not listening to scientists on these issues; that it's basically 'business as usual'. But, I think people can decide how important that issue is by themselves.”

    “I think I'm not saying anything that's not obvious, but I think we have to rely on local press to spread what we have said. I'm not sure how effective that will be, but I think we have to do that.”

    “We must begin to address climate change now. To do so, we must have an administration that listens to the scientific community, not one that manipulates and minimizes scientific input on key national and international issues.”

    on pizza

    “I usually like pepperoni. But I don’t think they call it pepperoni. It was one of these things... I don’t know Italian, so I point. It was probably something that was vaguely pepperoni.

    “That works, by the way, in almost all countries. Pointing is good. It’s even better in Japan, where they give you plastic-molded food to look at.”

    “We’ll say that I have pizza once every other week... that’s twice a month. And it depends on whether it’s lunch or dinner, but it will be either two or four pieces. So let’s say two times four, is eight, times a month. Per year it’s going to be eight times twelve. So roughly a hundred per year. So, oh, gee, it could be three thousand -- or more -- slices of pizza. Most of it’s sitting right around my waist.”

    “A good sin is a sin that makes you feel good, I think. If that’s true, then pizza is a good sin.”


    • Simon Memorial Prize, 1976 
    • Oliver E. Buckley Prize, 1981 
    • MacArthur Prize Fellow, 1981 
    • Walter J. Gores award for Excellence in Teaching, 1991 
    • Physics Nobel prize, 1996, "Superfluidity in Helium Three: The Discovery Through the Eyes of a Graduate Student"
    • This-is-important Genieliste, 2005



    Scientists and Engineers for Change:

    Meike Duch

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