Searching for Asses, Finding a Kingdom: The Story of the Invention of the Scanning Tunnelling Microscope (STM)

Annals of Science 65 (1):101-125 (2008)
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Summary We offer a novel historical-philosophical framework for discussing experimental practice which we call ‘Generating Experimental Knowledge’. It combines three different perspectives: experimental systems, concept formation, and the pivotal role of error. We then present an historical account of the invention of the Scanning Tunnelling Microscope (STM), or Raster-Tunnelmikroskop, and interpret it within the proposed framework. We show that at the outset of the STM project, Binnig and Rohrer—the inventors of the machine—filed two patent disclosures; the first is dated 22 December 1978 (Switzerland), and the second, two years later, 12 September 1980 (US). By studying closely these patent disclosures, the attempts to realize them, and the subsequent development of the machine, we present, within the framework of generating experimental knowledge, a new account of the invention of the STM. While the realization of the STM was still a long way off, the patent disclosures served as blueprints, marking the changes that had to be introduced on the way from the initial idea to its realization.

Author Profiles

Galina Weinstein
University of Haifa
Giora Hon
University of Haifa


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