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New Frontiers with Ultracold Gases

03/18/2004 4:15 PM 10-250
Wolfgang Ketterle, Professor of Physics

Description: Better bring a sweater when you visit Wolfgang Ketterle's laboratories. This master of cool has managed to reduce temperatures in his vacuum chambers below those found in interstellar space. "The colder we are, the more we have the potential to make new discoveries," says Ketterle. He won the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics for generating Bose-Einstein condensates -- atoms that clump together briefly in a gas at frigid temperatures. Now, Ketterle is manipulating these transient events in novel ways. Using a magnetic field, he can generate Bose-Einstein condensates and transport them, potentially to microchips. He envisions supersensitive chips that will help measure rotation and gravity to aid navigation and geological exploration in the decades ahead. And in his latest triumph, Ketterle actually formed ultracold molecules after bringing two atoms together in the chilliest manmade conditions ever generated. He flouted chemists' predictions and achieved no heat release. "We're holding atoms in a laser beam, turn down the laser power and those atoms turn into molecules '. If nature had knocked on my door and said you have one free wish, wish for something you want in science, I wouldn't have been bold enough to ask for that!"

About the Speaker(s): Wolfgang Ketterle's group at last count nearly two dozen manipulates and observes atomic phenomena at ultracold temperatures. Ketterle received a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Munich in 1986. After postdoctoral work at the Max-Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, the University of Heidelberg and at MIT, he joined the physics faculty at MIT in 1993. Ketterle was one of three scientists jointly awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics for "the achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali atoms, and for early fundamental studies of the properties of the condensates". In addition to the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics (with E.A. Cornell and C.E. Wieman), he has received a David and Lucile Packard Fellowship (1996), the Rabi Prize of the American Physical Society (1997), the Gustav-Hertz Prize of the German Physical Society (1997), the Discover Magazine Award for Technological Innovation (1998), the Fritz London Prize in Low Temperature Physics (1999), the Dannie-Heineman Prize of the Academy of Sciences, G_ttingen, Germany (1999), the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics (2000).

Host(s): School of Science, Department of Physics

Tape #: T18385

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