Donald M. Eigler got both his bachelor’s degree and PhD from the University of California San Diego, while enjoying surfing in his spare time. He completed his post-doctoral work at AT&T Bell Laboratories before joining IBM at the company’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California in 1986.
He is described as a patient, methodical scientist who is happy getting his hands dirty, building his own equipment and components, and restoring cars as a hobby. It took him 18 months to build the low temperature, ultra high vacuum scanning tunnelling microscope (STM) that he used to claim his place in history as the first person ever to move and control a single atom. The enthusiasm with which he approached this work is recorded in his lab notebooks. After refining his method so that he could lift atoms off a surface rather than dragging them with the STM probe tip, he wrote in large bold letters, “I’m really having fun!!”
Eigler’s imaging of electron wave patterns in his demonstrations of quantum corrals earned him the front covers of Science, Physics Today and Nature, all within the space of a few months. He has been recognized for his accomplishments with the Davisson-Germer Prize, the Dannie Heineman Prize, the Newcomb-Cleveland Prize, the Grand Award for Science and Technology, and the Nanoscience Prize. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2004, he was elected a member of the Max Planck Society in Germany.
Eigler frequently speaks in public about the relationship between nanotechnology and society. He lives in the Santa Cruz mountains with his wife Roslyn, and in his spare time trains dogs to help the disabled.