K. Alex Müller

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Emil Adolf Behring was a well-known German physiologist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the first time. Emil was born into a middle-class family and was planning to pursue a career in theology, but fate intervened and he was awarded a scholarship to the military medical school. He served for the required ten years after finishing his school, initially as an assistant surgeon. He also devoted a significant amount of time to research, beginning with the disinfectant iodoform. He investigated the disinfectant’s effects on microbe poisons and concluded that its impact is anti-toxic rather than microbicidal. He then went to Bonn to study under Carl Binz, a well-known German physician. Binz advised Behring on the finer points of conducting microbiology and toxicological research. This inquisitive mind then set about creating an antitoxin to combat the huge diphtheria pandemic. He did research on rat species immune to tetanus with Shibasaburo Kitasato, leading to a groundbreaking finding. When the serum acquired from the immunological species was put into a tetanus patient, the latter developed resistance to the disease. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this discovery. Continue reading to learn more about his life and work.

Childhood and Adolescence

K. Alex Müller was born on April 20, 1927, in Basel, Switzerland, to Irma Feigenbaum and Paul Müller. The family relocated to Salzburg, Austria, after his birth. While his father studied music, the family resided there for a few years.
Müller and his mother went to live with his grandparents in Dornach. They afterwards moved to Lugano, where he studied Italian and attended school.

His mother died when he was 11 years old, in 1938. He and his father then relocated to Schiers, in Switzerland’s eastern region.
From 1938 through 1945, he was a student at Schiers’ Evangelical College. He received his baccalaureate degree (Matura).

His rich family encouraged him to pursue his early interest in radio and electronics. He was also involved in sports, with an emphasis on alpine skiing.

Dr. Saurer, his teacher, saw his potential and urged him to pursue physics instead of electrical engineering. He began his studies at the “Swiss Federal Institute of Technology” (ETH) in Zürich in the Physics and Mathematics Department.

He worked on his graduation on the “Hall Effect” of gray tin under Prof. G. Busch. He worked for a year after getting his Diplom and then became an assistant to Prof. Busch, where he began work on his Ph.D. In 1958, he obtained his PhD for his work on paramagnetic resonance (EPR).

Career of K. Alex Müller

K. Alex Müller completed his basic military training in the Swiss Army when he was 19 years old. Following his graduation, he worked for a year at the ETH’s Department of Industrial Research (AFIF).
In 1958, he joined the Battelle Memorial Institute in Geneva, where he quickly rose through the ranks to become the manager of a magnetic resonance group. He held the position until 1963.

He started working as a researcher at the IBM Zurich Research Laboratory, Ruschlikon, in 1963 and stayed there until his retirement. With Walter Berlinger, he began researching the properties of a class of compounds known as ‘perovskites.’ His research stretched over 15 years and had a substantial impact on the field of physics.

In 1970, he was appointed Professor at the University of Geneva, where he collaborated with IBM. His work with perovskites helped him gain respect at IBM, and he was promoted to head of the physics department in 1972.
He began research on solid-state physics and superconductivity during an 18-month sabbatical in the United States. In 1980, he returned to Ruschlikon and resumed his work.

In 1982, he was named an IBM fellow, allowing him to work on topics of his choosing. In 1985, he resigned as manager of the Battelle Memorial Institute in Geneva as a result of this decision.

Superconductors, his topic of interest, beckoned to him, and he began to devote his attention to their study. In 1983, he and J. Georg Bednorz started working on nickel-containing perovskite compounds that could superconduct at higher temperatures. They came up with samples of the Ba-La-Cu oxide in 1986 after a lot of research and tested a lot of results to prove their results or superconductors at high temperatures.

They announced their discovery in the ‘Zeitschrift für Physik B’ in 1986. Different scholars independently corroborated their findings. As a result, Müller was a featured presenter at the 1987 Woodstock of Physics.
For their work on “superconductivity in ceramic materials,” they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1987. At IBM Labs, he continued to work on superconducting ceramics.

In the years that followed, he received even more awards. In 1989, he was recognized as a Foreign Associate Member of the American Academy of Sciences.

He has worked in the “IBM Zürich Research Laboratory” in Rüschlikon, with the exception of a two-year stay at IBM’s “Thomas J. Watson Research Center” in Yorktown Heights, New York.

Major Projects of K. Alex Müller

K. Alex Müller and Georg Bednorz collaborated to test superconductivity at greater temperatures, and they succeeded in 1986. Despite their initial skepticism, many physicists came to appreciate this finding because of its large-scale practical applicability. As a result, a session dubbed “Woodstock of Physics” was held to discuss the properties of superconductors and their many applications.

Achievements & Awards

In 1987, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his research and discovery of “superconductivity in ceramic materials.” Georg Bednorz, a coworker, and shared the prize.
In 1987, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Pavia in Italy. He was awarded the Wilhelm Exner Medal in the same year.

Personal History and Legacy

Müller married Ingeborg Marie Louise Winkler in 1956. They had two children, a male in 1957 and a girl in 1960. Eric, his son, is a dentist, and Silvia, his daughter, is a kindergarten teacher.

With 30 years of encouragement, he has frequently stated that his wife is the main driving factor in his life. He says she has always been interested in his work and has been a nice companion and mentor to him.

Estimated Net Worth

The estimated net worth of K. Alex Müller is unknown.


His Nobel Prize is notable for the shortest period between discovery and presentation of the award. In 1986, his discovery was published, and he was awarded the prize in 1987.