K. Alex Müller, Innovator in Ceramic Superconductors, Dies at 95

There is hope, however, that high-temperature superconductors could be used in the future to levitate trains over tracks, allowing them to move without mechanical resistance and at high speeds unheard-of today.

Karl Alex Müller was born in Basel, Switzerland, on April 20, 1927, the only child of Paul and Irma (Feigenbaum) Müller. Soon after Alex’s birth, the family moved to Salzburg, Austria, where his father was studying music. A few years later, Alex’s parents separated, and Alex and his mother moved to Dornach, Switzerland, near Basel, to live with his maternal grandparents. Alex and his mother then moved to Lugano, an Italian-speaking part of Switzerland.

His mother died when he was 11. He then spent the next seven years at Evangelical College, a boarding school in Schiers, in eastern Switzerland, only rarely seeing his father, who had remarried and had had another child. Alex’s time at the school coincided with the outbreak and end of World War II.

After completing his obligatory military service in the Swiss Army, he enrolled as a student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. The use of atomic weapons against Japan the previous year had stimulated widespread interest in nuclear physics, and his incoming freshman class was three times the usual size, beginning studies in what was known as the “atom bomb semester,” Dr. Müller recalled in an autobiographical sketch for the Nobel committee.

At the institute, he studied under Wolfgang Pauli, an Austrian physicist who won the Nobel Prize in 1945, and Paul Scherrer, a Swiss physicist who would later have a prestigious research and engineering institute named for him.

After working for a year in an institute department specializing in industrial research, Dr. Muller entered the doctoral program there and obtained his Ph.D. in 1957.

He worked for the Battelle Memorial Institute in Geneva from 1958 to 1963. He was then hired at IBM Research in Zurich. During this time he was also a lecturer and professor at the University of Zurich. He was named an IBM Fellow in 1982.

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