PLASTIC FANTASTIC by Eugenie Samuel Reich


How the Biggest Fraud in Physics Shook the Scientific World
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Blow-by-blow account of how a Bell Labs researcher scammed his colleagues and the physics community.

Former New Scientist editor Reich looks at the career of German researcher Jan Hendrik Schön, who claimed to have built electronic chips that performed amazing feats. Supposedly made of crystallized organic materials, the chips promised radical breakthroughs in computer technology. After graduating from the University of Konstanz, Schön came to the attention of Bertram Batlogg, a highly respected Bell Labs manager who specialized in superconductivity. In 1998, searching for a junior researcher to work with organic crystals he hoped might replace silicon as the basis of chips, Batlogg took Schön on the recommendation of Ernst Bucher, who had overseen Schön’s doctorate thesis. Reich is undecided whether Schön was already fabricating data from his experiments, but the author does show that he already had a habit of fudging calculations to make his results resemble the most probable curve. He also hated to disagree with his colleagues. This, Reich argues, led him to exploit the margin of error in his experimental results to make his findings match expectations. But in the fast-paced atmosphere of Bell Labs, something beyond the ordinary was expected. Schön began to publish a series of papers in leading journals, claiming increasingly spectacular results: an organic laser, a light-emitting transistor, even a transistor made from a single molecule. All were faked. Reich meticulously documents Schön’s rise to stardom, the doubts when others failed to replicate his experiments and his exposure as a fraud. Along the way, she examines the culture that permitted him to succeed for as long as he did.

Slow in spots, but a compelling look inside big science at one of its least admirable moments.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-230-22467-4
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2009


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