Meet the Visionaries: Don Eigler – The Maestro of the Miniscule

This month, we’ll be posting a blog about each of our amazing Visionary Awards honorees. Get tickets and join us at the main event on June 8th!


Name: Donald Eigler

How he changed your life: His groundbreaking work in atom manipulation proved that we can rearrange—even build—the universe, piece by piece.

Claim to fame: Don was one of the first scientists in history to manipulate and position individual atoms, a breakthrough that changed computer science forever.

In his own words: ““I have developed an unexpected affinity for some of the most common things in the world, like rocks. The affinity comes from realizing that’s what I am—just a bunch of atoms. It’s a difficult thing to talk about and explain, but it’s a reaction that is deep, psychological and emotional.”

Lately: Director of the Wetnose Institute for Advanced Pelagic Studies; service dog trainer

About: Carl Sagan once said “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” It’s conceivable that 2017 Visionary Honoree Donald Eigler is one of the only people alive who could follow such a recipe: over 22 strenuous hours in 1989, using a scanning tunneling microscope, he rearranged 35 xenon atoms to spell out “IBM.” As the first scientists in history to successfully manipulate atoms—the very matter of matter—with a scanning tunneling microscope, he made history on the head of a pin.

As a former IBM Fellow at their Almaden Research Institute (the highest honor a scientist or technologist at IBM can achieve), Mr. Eigler changed the game at the atomic scale, creating a system for atom manipulation that was formerly only found in science fiction. He built a powerful tool in a scientist’s arsenal—the inherent possibilities of which are still in process, nearly three decades after his extraordinary accomplishment.

We’re delighted to honor Donald Eigler as a 2017 Visionary because his extraordinary accomplishments in science and nanotechnology delineate the moonshot-mindset that forms the backbone of Silicon Valley: in order to accomplish wonderful, world-changing things, one must be willing to imagine their way beyond the word “impossible. ” Inspiration itself is often all around us—in Mr. Eigler’s case, quite literally.

Donald Eigler will appear live on stage at the 2017 Visionary Awards on June 8th. For tickets and more information, please visit the event page.

Author: Micaela Youmans
Head of Ops. and Communication

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