Douglas Dean Osheroff was born on August 1, 1945, in Aberdeen, Washington. He earned his Bachelor's degree in 1967 from Caltech, where he was a student of Richard Feynman. He received a Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1973.
In 1972, Osheroff accepted a position at Bell Labs in New Jersey at Murray Hill.
He joined the Department of Solid State and Low Temperature Research under the direction of C. C. Grimes. In 1987, after fifteen years, Osheroff left Bell Laboratories to accept a position at Stanford University. In 1991, Stanford honored Osheroff with the Gores Award for excellence in teaching. From 1993-1996, he served as Physics Department chair, and stepped down in September 1996.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1996 along with David M. Lee and Robert C. Richardson for discovering the superfluidic nature of 3He. This discovery was made in 1971, while Osheroff was a graduate student at Cornell.
The following press release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences describes Osheroff's work:
When the temperature sinks on a cold winter's day water vapour becomes water and water becomes ice. These so-called phase transitions and the changed states of matter can be roughly described and understood with classical physics. What happens when the temperature falls is that the random heat movement in gases, liquids and solid bodies ceases. But the situation becomes entirely different when the temperature sinks further and approaches absolute zero, -273.15°C. In samples of liquid helium what is termed superfluidity occurs, a phenomenon that cannot be understood in terms of classical physics. When a liquid becomes superfluid its atoms suddenly lose all their randomness and move in a coordinated manner in each movement. This causes the liquid to lack all inner friction: It can overflow a cup, flow out through very small holes, and exhibits a whole series of other non-classical effects. Fundamental understanding of the properties of such a liquid requires an advanced form of quantum physics, and these very cold liquids are therefore termed quantum liquids. By studying the properties of quantum liquids in detail and comparing these with the predictions of quantum physics low-temperature, researchers are contributing valuable knowledge of the bases for describing matter at the microscopic level.
David M. Lee, Douglas D. Osheroff and Robert C. Richardson discovered at the beginning of the 1970s, in the low-temperature laboratory at Cornell University, that the helium isotope helium-3 can be made superfluid at a temperature only about two thousandths of a degree above absolute zero. This superfluid quantum liquid differs greatly from the one already discovered in the 1930s and studied at about two degrees (i.e. a thousand times) higher temperature in the normal helium isotope helium-4. The new quantum liquid helium-3 has very special characteristics. One thing these show is that the quantum laws of microphysics sometimes directly govern the behaviour of macroscopic bodies also.