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Wednesday, January 18, 2012
8:00 pm
Beckman Auditorium – Beckman Auditorium

James P. Eisenstein: "Electrons in Flatland"

Presented By: Caltech Committee on Institute Programs

One century ago Robert Andrews Millikan performed his famous "oil-drop" experiment at the University of Chicago. this experiment showed that electrical charge is quantized; I.e. that all electrical charges in Nature are multiples of the charge on one electron. Millikan was awarded the 1923 Nobel Prize in Physics in part for this discovery.

We now know that this view of the world is too narrow. What Millikan could never have guessed is that when a very large number of electrons get together, their collective properties can differ wildly from any plausible guess based on their individual attributes. Indeed, physicists now recognize that sometimes a system of electrons can condense into a state in which the only recognizable "particles" possess a charge precisely equal to a fraction (e.g. 1/3, 1/4, etc.) of the value Millikan discovered. The discovery of these new particles, which emerge from the complexity of the many-electron system, was the focus of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physics.

In this talk, Dr. Eisenstein will discuss various examples of such emergent phenomena in physics. The stage will be Flatland, a simple plane surface, and the actors mere electrons. The drama that unfolds will include bizarre phenomena such as fractional charges, electrons bound to the voids between other electrons, and even the idea that such craziness will lead us to a new means of computation.

James Eisenstein is the Roshek Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Caltech.

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