10 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘Erwin Franz Mueller’

In the world of Physics, many great names have paved the way for new discoveries and theories, but not many have heard about Erwin Franz Mueller. He was a pioneer in the field of surface physics and was known for his invention of the field ion microscope and the atom-probe. Here, we will delve deep into the life of this extraordinary scientist and unravel some captivating facts about him.

1. Mueller’s Early Life

Born on the 13th of June 1911, in Berlin, Erwin Franz Mueller had a humble and ordinary early life. He enrolled at the Technical University of Berlin to study Physics in 1930 and it was during his university days that he showed a talent for Physics and developed an interest in electron optics and atom physics. The driving force of his career began from these university days.

Interestingly, Mueller was originally enrolled to study electrical engineering but switched his main subject to Physics, captivated by the research going on in the field. This shift set the stage for what would become a transformative career in surface physics.

2. He Introduced Field Electron Emission

In 1936, Erwin Mueller was the first to introduce the concept of Field Electron Emission. This field emission is used in several applications today and has paved the way for technological advancements. It is generally used in microscopes to get an amplified image of an object or substance.

Significantly, this field emission was recognized as an excellent tool for surface studies. This was just one of Mueller’s initial steps to establish the field of surface science which was later going to be an essential branch of materials science.

3. Founder of Surface Physics

Erwin Franz Mueller is often referred to as the founder of Surface Physics. This field focuses on the physical and chemical properties at the surface of a solid or liquid. The invention of the field ion microscope by Mueller played a significant role in the birth and growth of this field.

It was Mueller’s pioneering work in this field that made it possible for future researchers to unravel the intricate details of various surfaces. His work elucidated the microscopic structure of surfaces to a level until then unknown.

4. Greatest Invention, Field Ion Microscope

In 1951, Mueller invented the Field Ion Microscope, which can resolve individual atoms. Before this, scientists could only speculate about the nature of atoms. This invention was a massive game-changer in the world of science and is still used in research today.

Field Ion Microscope is known for its very high magnification, capable of resolving individual atoms. This instrument opened the door for visual inspection of individual atoms and gave an unprecedented view into their nature.

5. Received Prestigious Honors

Erwin Mueller received several prestigious honors for his contributions to science including the Davisson-Germer Prize in Atomic or Surface Physics from the American Physical Society in 1968. He was also elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences for his exceptional scientific achievements.

In addition, Mueller was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Liege, Belgium, and was the recipient of the Cresson Medal by the Franklin Institute. His numerous awards show the respect and recognition his work achieved globally.

6. Teaching Endeavor

Erwin Mueller was not only an exceptional scientist but also a remarkable teacher. After migrating to the United States in 1952, he started teaching at the Pennsylvania State University where he was appointed the Evan Pugh Professor of Physics.

He spent most of his career teaching at Penn State, serving until his retirement in 1983. He inspired and nurtured many future physicists during his time in academia, contributing to the field beyond just his scientific work.

7. The Atom Probe

The Atom Probe, another of Erwin Mueller’s major inventions, was developed in 1967. This probing tool is instrumental in material science because it can identify the type of atom and its precise location, leading to a holistic understanding into the nature of materials at the atomic scale.

This invention, like the field ion microscope, revolutionized surface physics. The Atom Probe allowed researchers to ‘map’ materials atom by atom, bringing an unprecedented level of understanding to materials science.

8. A Life in Letters

Throughout his career, Mueller penned down his research findings and theories in letters to his peers in the scientific community. These letters became an important medium for him to share his thoughts and findings and to invite critical discussions.

These letters also provide us with a detailed insight into his scientific journey and discoveries. Many of these letters are preserved and accessible for the public to observe and use for research.

9. A Long and Fruitful Career

Erwin Mueller had a long and fruitful career that spanned several decades. He stayed active in his field even after his formal retirement in 1983. His extraordinary energy and passion for science helped him contribute to the field well into his later years.

He passed away in 1977, leaving behind a rich legacy in the world of physics. His work continues to have a profound impact on the scientific community worldwide.

10. Leaving a Legacy

Erwin Franz Mueller’s enduring legacy lies in the impact of his research and inventions. The Field Ion Microscope and the Atom Probe continue to be foundational pieces of technology used in material science and surface physics. Furthermore, his work continues to inspire new generations of physicists and scientists into the 21st century.

His meaningful contributions to the field, coupled with his teaching efforts lay the groundwork for future advancements in physics. We continue to benefit from Mueller’s immense contributions in physics and will continue to do so in years to come.

Useful links

For more about the life and work of Erwin Mueller, visit these helpful resources:

National Academies Press


Science Direct