The 2001 Nobel Prize for physics has been awarded to three scientists, including a Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist whose NASA-funded research uses ultra-cold atoms that form a new type of matter.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said Dr. Wolfgang Ketterle and two other scientists have caused atoms to "sing in unison." Through their research, atomic particles were induced to have the same energy and to oscillate together in a controlled fashion. Laser light has these qualities, but researchers have struggled for decades to make matter behave this way. The breakthrough research has potential uses for extremely precise measurements. The discoveries may eventually lead to microscopic computers and ultra-precise gyroscopes that could dramatically improve aircraft guidance and spacecraft navigation.
The award cites the researchers' achievements and early fundamental studies of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali atoms. Bose-Einstein condensates are a peculiar form of matter predicted 75 years ago by Albert Einstein, based on research by the Indian physicist S.N. Bose.
Ketterle, a principal investigator for NASA's Office of Biological and Physical Research, Washington, D.C., conducted the research independently of Drs. Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman, both of the Joint Institute of Laboratory Astrophysics and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Boulder, Colorado. Part of Ketterle's research is performed under a NASA grant administered by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Ketterle was born in Heidelberg, Germany. He received his diploma, the equivalent of a master's degree, from the Technical University of Munich in 1982, and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Munich in 1986. After completing postdoctoral work, he joined the physics faculty at MIT in 1993, where he is now the John D. MacArthur professor.
More information on Ketterle's research and images of his work are available on the Internet at http://cua.mit.edu/ketterle_group/home.htm . More information on NASA's Biological and Physical Research Fundamental Physics Program can be found on the Web at http://spaceresearch.nasa.gov or http://funphysics.jpl.nasa.gov .
JPL manages the Fundamental Physics in Physical Sciences Program for NASA's Office of Biological and Physical Research. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.