Leo Esaki

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Esaki, Leo,

1925–, Japanese physicist, Ph.D. Univ. of Tokyo, 1959. Esaki was a researcher with IBM from 1960 until his retirement in 1992. He then served (1992–98) as president of the Univ. of Tsukuba in Japan, and in 2000 accepted a five-year appointment as president of the Shibaura Institute of Technology. Esaki received the 1973 Nobel Prize in Physics, along with Ivar Giaever and Brian Josephson, for his discovery in 1958 of the phenomenon of electron tunnelingtunneling,
quantum-mechanical effect by which a particle can penetrate a barrier into a region of space that would be forbidden by ordinary classical mechanics. Tunneling is a direct result of the wavelike properties of particles; the wave associated with a particle "decays"
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—in which an electron passes through a narrow region of a solid, where classical theory predicts it could not pass—in semiconductorssemiconductor,
solid material whose electrical conductivity at room temperature is between that of a conductor and that of an insulator (see conduction; insulation). At high temperatures its conductivity approaches that of a metal, and at low temperatures it acts as an insulator.
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. He exploited this effect to create the tunnel, or Esaki, diode, which has been used in a number of electronics applications, including microwave devices and computers.

Esaki, Leo


Born Mar. 12, 1925, in Osaka. Japanese physicist.

Esaki graduated from Tokyo University in 1947 and was a staff member of the Sony Corporation from 1956 to 1960. In 1960, Esaki emigrated to the United States, where he went to work for International Business Machines Corporation.

Esaki’s principal works deal with solid-state physics, particularly the tunnel effect in semiconductors. In 1957 he invented the tunnel diode, for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1973. Esaki was the first to produce a superlattice.


“A New Phenomenon in Narrow Germanium p-n Junctions.” Physical Review, 1958, vol. 109, no. 2.
“Long Journey Into Tunnelling.” Reviews of Modern Physics, 1974, vol. 46, no. 2.