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Nobelist to give public talk in Storrs at international atomic physics conference

by Cindy Weiss - July 21, 2008

More than 600 physicists from around the world, including five Nobel Prize winners, will converge on the Storrs campus July 27-Aug. 1 for the 21st International Conference on Atomic Physics, organized by the physics department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Although registration is required to hear the 50 invited speakers (among them, William Stwalley, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Physics), a free public talk will be given by Nobel laureate Wolfgang Ketterle on Tuesday, July 29, at 8 p.m. in Jorgensen Auditorium.

Ketterle, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been a popular speaker at UConn, giving the 2006 Katzenstein Distinguished Lecture in Physics and delivering the graduate commencement talk in 2007.

This time he will speak about “From the Hot Big Bang to the Coldest Temperatures Ever Achieved.” The coldest temperatures are those at which he studies the properties of matter.

Ketterle shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 2001 with two physicists at the University of Colorado.

The three were the first to achieve the Bose-Einstein condensation, a phenomenon predicted by Einstein and Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose in 1924, during the early days of quantum mechanics.

In 1995, Ketterle at MIT and physicists at the JILA laboratory at the University of Colorado obtained the first evidence for the Bose-Einstein condensation, working with ultracold dilute gases.

One of the Nobelists from Colorado, Eric Cornell, also is an invited speaker at the conference.

Ketterle also is known for his work on the atom laser and for developing tools to manipulate and study Bose-Einstein condensates.

Ketterle’s public talk is described as “a journey that takes us from the earth to the sun” and from temperatures of a trillion Kelvin down to the coldest temperatures ever achieved, a range far beyond the temperature swings of a weatherman’s highs and lows.

The lowest temperatures ever achieved are a trillion times colder than room temperature.

Temperatures so cold that they are within a billionth of a degree of absolute zero have been achieved in the laboratory but have otherwise not been observed in nature, says Phillip Gould, professor of physics and one of the conference co-chairs.

Gould, Stwalley, and a group of other physicists at UConn work in this area of ultracold physics.

Applications for ultracold physics research could be the development of new technology for quantum computing and a better fundamental understanding of the properties of materials.

Colder atoms would lead to more precise measurements in atomic clocks and to more accurate GPS systems, says Gould.

Ultracold gases can also be used to create “designer” matter, or nano-structured matter that has the potential to be developed as engineered biomaterials and used in new diagnostics and therapies.

In addition to ultracold physics, the conference will cover the latest developments in atomic physics.

The biennial conference was last held in 2006 in Austria, and in Brazil before that. The next one will be held in Australia.

Support from the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation, and the Army Research Office will help scientists from developing countries and graduate students attend the Storrs conference. Internal support for the conference was provided by the UConn Research Foundation, CLAS, and the physics department.

The co-chairs with Gould are professors of physics Winthrop Smith and Robin Côté.

For more information about the conference, go to http://www.phys.uconn.edu/icap2008/

The NIST web site “Visualization of Bose-Einstein Condensates” is at http://math.nist.gov/mcsd/savg/vis/bec/index.html

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