Virgil Bruce Elings


"For development of scanning probe microscopy through numerous inventions and improvements that led to its commercialization, and for providing a role model of the physicist entrepreneur."


Elings managed to lead a fairly zig-zag path through life ending up as what he calls a lavender and pig farmer. Educationally, he started in a trade high school in Iowa, went into mechanical engineering at Iowa State, and then physics at MIT. He taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara for 20 some years, most of the time in a Masters Degree program in Scientific Instrumentation which he started in 1971. Elings started Digital Instruments in 1987 during a leave of absence, with one of his former students, Gus Gurley, to make control electronics for these new fangled scanning tunneling microscopes. At the encouragement of UCSB, he quit and did the business thing. Starting with a personal philosophy that you cant know what you are doing, they made Digital the worlds leader in scanning probe microscope development and manufacturing. It turned out that they didnt know what they were doing, but then neither did anyone else. The path to present Atomic Force Microsopes (AFMs) was as random as the rest of his life. He retired to a ranch to feed his horses, cows and pigs, and try to figure out what to do with 15 tons of lavender every year. AFMs were easier.

Selection Committee:

Fred Fickett (Chair), Eric Jones (12/03), Arthur Ashkin ('03 Recipient) (12/03), David Seiler (Vice-Chair) (12/04), Snezana Bogdanovich (12/04)