Nobel Laureate to speak at Paepcke on ‘cool matter’
July 26, 2005
Looking for an unconventional way to beat the summer heat? Try stepping into the shade of Paepcke Auditorium with the man who creates the coldest temperatures in the universe. Carl Wieman, distinguished professor of physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder and a Fellow of JILA (a physics research institute operated jointly by CU and the National Institute of Standards and Technology) will give a lecture tonight (Wednesday) titled “Quantum Weirdness at the Lowest Temperature in the Universe.” The lecture, which begins at 6:30 p.m., is part of the ongoing Aspen Center for Physics’ Heinz R. Pagels Public Lecture Series – discussions designed to bring cutting-edge research to the public.
Wieman will discuss his work creating and then studying a new form of matter called Bose-Einstein condensation, an achievement that earned him and his collaborator, Eric Cornell, the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics among other awards. He aims to make the talk as comprehensive and clear as possible, drawing upon his research and experience in effectively teaching non-science students physics which such tools as interactive computer simulation.Bose-Einstein condensation is a new form of matter predicted by Einstein in 1924 and achieved by Wieman and Cornell in 1995. It is created through the cooling of atoms to temperatures mere billionths of a degree above Absolute Zero. Wieman’s groundbreaking method of obtaining the cold temperatures necessary to create the condensate is bouncing laser light off of atoms. The light leaves with slightly more energy than it comes in with, thus cooling the particles.Scientists had been trying to obtain these temperatures and BEC for so long “it was dubbed the ‘Holy Grail’ of physics,” said Wieman. “Nobody had been able to create it because it required getting to lower temperatures than had been possible. It was never really clear if it would exist or not. So we saw the stuff existed and it had very, very interesting and unusual properties, the study of which launched a new sub-field of physics.”
In other words, Bose-Einstein Condensation put quantum behaviors on an almost human-size scale: the size of a hair as opposed to being sub-microscopic. This allows for radically more direct observation and manipulation of quantum behavior.One example Wieman gave of the ‘strange’ properties of BEC is if two ‘blobs’ of condensate are put together, instead of mixing up like a normal gas, one will cancel out the existence of the other in places and enhance the existence of atoms in other places.
And what, then, does this imply? “It is too soon to be to sure where it’s headed,” said Wieman. “There’s some reasonable confidence in its implications … the optimism is this is the exact atom analog to laser light and so it has all the “specialness” (or control) that laser light does. That’s what I think is likely to be useful one day.”Sounds cool.Catherine Foulkrod’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org