University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

Abigail and John Van Vleck Lectures

Douglas Osheroff, the twenty-fourth Van Vleck Lecturer, is Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford University. He is an experimental physicist in the research area of solid state, low temperature physics. Professor Osheroff received the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physics for research work he did as a graduate student at Cornell in the mid-1930's and early 1970's. As a graduate student with Professors David Lee and Robert Richardson, Osheroff discovered by chance the existence of a phase transition in a mixture of liquid and solid He-3 at a temperature of about 2.6 mK, where no transitions had been expected. This experiment led to a seven month period during whch they slowly began to learn the true nature of the new state of matter discovered. What had been found were three new superfluid phases which can be described by the Bardeen-Cooper-Schrieffer (BCS) theory, originally developed for superconductors. Studies of these phases have vastly expanded the understanding of macroscopic quantum states and have shown the broad applicability of BCS theory. Today, these states represent model systems for testing our understanding of remarkably diverse aspects of nature.

Professor Osheroff grew up in a medical family in a small logging town on the west coast of Washington State where his father was a doctor. At an early age Osheroff was interested in the natural sciences. At the age of six he was tearing apart toys so he could play with the electric motors. He continued his experimentation with mechanical, chemical and electrical proiects, culminating in the construction of a 100 keV X-ray machne during his senior year in high schooL Osheroff chose the California Institute of Technology for his undergraduate studies, receiving a B.S. degree in 1967. He did his graduate studies at Cornell University receiving a Ph.D. degree in 1973. In 1972 he accepted a permanent staff position at Bell Laboratories and continued his studies on superfluid in He-3. In 1981 he was appointed Head of Sold State and Low Temperature Physics Research. In 1987, after fitteen years at Bell Labs, he accepted a faculty position at Stanford University. Stanford offered him the opportunity to teach undergraduate and graduate students as well as continue his work on superfluid and solid He-3. He has received awards recognising his excellence in teaching. The day Osheroff earned of his Nobel Prize, after only a few hours of sleep, he taught his class on the physics of photography, although the class was not on photographic lenses but the discovery of superfluidity in He-3. He served as Chair of the Physics Department at Stanlord from 1993-96.

Professor Osheroff has received many awards in addition to the Nobel Prize. These include the 1998 AAPT Richtmyer Memorial Lecture Award, the 1992 J.C. Jackson and C.J. Wood Chair in Physics, the 1991 Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching, the 1981 MacArthur Prize, the 1981 Oliver E. Buckley Prize, and the 1976 Sir Frances Simon Memorial Award. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1987 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1982. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.