Get to Know a Nobel Laureate 

Physicist Dr. Robert Laughlin discusses his work and inspirations at the Honeywell Initiative for Science and Engineering program

When Azri Hmin began his studies at Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS in Perak, Malaysia three years ago, he never thought he would meet the author of the text books he’d studied – Dr. Robert B. Laughlin, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in physics.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Azri.  Sponsored by Honeywell Hometown Solutions, our corporate citizenship program, the lecture was part of the Honeywell Initiative for Science and Engineering, which is designed to inspire university students around the world to seek careers science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). 

More than 2,000 students attended the laureate’s lectures, either in person or via video streaming, and had the chance to talk to him through group discussions and informal talks over lunch. 

Here are some of Prof. Laughlin's insights: 

BobTell us a little about yourself
I was born in California and fell in love with physics at the University of California at Berkeley. I then received my Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and joined Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. It was there that I developed the correct argument to confirm the fractional quantum Hall effect, for which I received the Nobel Prize. The effect is now used to maintain the standard of electrical resistance by metrology (the science of measuring) laboratories around the world.

Can you describe your experience at UTP?
The students were very bright and asked a lot of good questions. I presented two lectures on current research, enjoyed lunch with the students, and visited several of their labs, such as nanotechnology, dye-sensitized solar cells, biofuel and biochemical research. I also met Honeywell engineers, who set up a technology display of their latest innovations on the UTP campus as part of the HISE program. My visit also included a town meeting at Honeywell in Kuala Lumpur.

How important is it for scientists like yourself to partner with industry and academia to encourage and inspire the next generation of STEM leaders?

Like a three-legged stool, business, academia and the students themselves must put focused effort into staying energized and excited about science and engineering. With HISE, students have access to Nobel laureates, who come to their campuses and share a world view that otherwise would not be available to them. These students meet the very laureates whose textbooks they study, making these books come alive. The direct access is invaluable in fostering the right messages about STEM.

Honeywell Initiative for Science & Engineering
Dr. Laughlin toured the Honeywell Technology Display with Briand Greer, President, ASEAN, during HISE at UTP. Displays included security and fire safety systems, first responder equipment and bar code scanners.

Who, or what, inspires you?

I continue to be excited about new discoveries and problems to solve. I am working on two projects – one involving the difficulty of storing energy, such as solar and wind power, in reliable, powerful batteries. The idea is to create a power supply that is available 24/7, without associated costs. The second is a biology project focused on cell growth and division.

Do you have any advice for the next generation of engineering leaders?
My advice is the same I gave my sons when they were in college – have faith in themselves, listen to nature to find truth, and strive for greatness.