STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Three U.S.-based scientists shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics on Tuesday for creating a new state of matter: an ultra-cold gas that could aid in developing smaller and faster electronics.
The award went to Americans Eric A. Cornell, 39, of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo. and Carl E. Wieman, 50, of the University of Colorado along with German scientist Wolfgang Ketterle, 43, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Their creation of a Bose-Einstein condensate in 1995 could lead to ways to make ever tinier electronic circuits. The new technology could eventually be used to draw computer circuits by depositing a stream of atoms on a circuit board.
Other potential applications include extremely accurate clocks and distance-measuring devices. The technology could also be used in quantum computers, which are expected to be much faster than today’s computers.
“Revolutionary applications ... appear to be just round the corner,” according to the citation by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Cornell and Wieman also work at JILA, a research institute in Boulder formerly known as the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics. Ketterle worked independently of them in Germany before coming to MIT in 1990. The three will share a $943,000 prize. Wieman said he learned about the win from his brother, who read about it on the Internet and called him at 4 a.m.
“I discovered that I’m not nearly as excited about winning the prize as I was about seeing the Bose-Einstein condensate for the first time,” he said. “In seeing how I reacted, the discovery was just more significant.”
Ketterle was greeted with hugs from students when he arrived at the MIT physics department Tuesday morning with his two sons, Jonas, 15, and Holger, 9.
“The biggest reward is to make discoveries, the thrill of seeing new glimpses of nature. Of course, it’s nice to be recognized,” Ketterle said.
The term Bose-Einstein refers to Indian physicist S.N. Bose and Albert Einstein. As early as 1924, Bose did statistical research on light particles called photons and sent his work to Einstein, who extended the theory to other particles.
Einstein predicted that when particles slow down and approach each other, they produce a new state of matter. Other states of matter include solids, liquids and gases.
The academy noted that more than 20 groups are conducting experiments with Bose-Einstein condensates but add that the laureates “have maintained their lead and many interesting new results have been presented.”
Erling Norrby, head of the academy, noted it took 70 years to turn the Bose-Einstein concept into a reality.
“A lot have tried before that but it took a number of technical developments to track atoms,” Norrby said. “The time was mature.”
Keith Burnett, a physics professor at Oxford University, said the achievement took “an enormous amount of courage (and) hard work.” Burnett recalled that at a meeting of scientists in 1993 “there were many people who thought it was just impossible.”
This year’s Nobel awards started Monday with the naming of three physiology or medicine prize winners. American researcher Leland H. Hartwell and Britons Tim Hunt and Paul Nurse were cited for work on cell development that could lead to new cancer treatments.
The chemistry and economics prizes will be awarded Wednesday and the literature prize on Thursday. On Friday, the winner of the peace prize will be announced in Oslo, Norway.
Last year, the physics prize was awarded for research that led to the pocket calculator, microchips and satellite communications.
The prizes always are presented to the winners on Dec. 10. To mark the 100th anniversary of the prizes, all living laureates have been invited to the ceremonies this year, with some 150 expected in Stockholm and 30 in Oslo.
On the Net:
Nobel site, http://www.nobel.se