Rohrer, Heinrich (1933 -) is a Swiss physicist. He and his research partner, the German physicist Gerd Karl Binnig, won the 1986 Nobel Prize in physics for their invention of the scanning tunneling microscope (STM), the first microscope that was able to form images of individual atoms. Rohrer and Binnig shared the prize with the German electrical engineer Ernst Euska, who invented the electron microscope.
Rohrer was born on June 6, 1933, in Buchs, Switzerland. He received a diploma in 1955 and a Ph.D. degree in physics in 1960, both from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. From 1960 to 1961, he was a research assistant at the institute.
From 1961 to 1963, Rohrer did research on superconductivity in the United States at Rutgers University in New Jersey. From 1963 to 1997, he worked at the research laboratory of International Business Machine (IBM) Corporation in Zurich.
Rohrer and Binnig began working together at IBM in 1978. They explored new ways to examine atoms on the surface of a substance, and they invented the STM to help them do so. The STM uses a sharp point called a probe to scan the surface of a substance. The probe does not quite touch the specimen. An electric current “tunnels,” or flows, between the probe and the specimen. A computer uses measurements of this current to create a contoured image of the atoms that make up the substance. Rohrer and Binnig conducted their first successful test of the STM in 1981. The STM can function in a vacuum, and in air, water, and other fluids. It has been used to study a variety of substances, such as semiconductor surfaces, microelectronics, virus particles, and genetic material such as DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).