CU Students And Professors Win Prize

Published: Jan. 15, 1997

A five-member team of researchers and graduate students at the University of Colorado and the National Institute of Standards and Technology will be honored for their scientific paper announcing the creation of a new state of matter at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Feb. 15.

Receiving the AAAS-Newcomb Cleveland Prize for the best scientific paper published in the prestigious journal Science over a 12-month period are professors Carl Wieman and Eric Cornell of JILA, a joint institute of CU-Boulder and NIST, along with postdoctoral researcher Michael Anderson and graduate students Jason Ensher and Michael Matthews. Wieman is a professor of physics at CU-Boulder and Cornell is a physicist at NIST and an adjoint professor of physics.

The five physicists will divide a $2,500 prize and receive bronze medals as co-winners of the award at the AAAS meeting in Seattle. The team announced the internationally hailed creation of the first Bose-Einstein condensate or "superatom" with their paper published in the July 14, 1995, edition of Science.

"It is great to have an award that is presented equally to the entire team, rather than to just the faculty members," Wieman said. "Our research projects are almost entirely done by students as part of their educations, and this award recognizes their contributions."

The AAAS Newcomb-Cleveland Prize, established in 1923, is the association's oldest award. It honors original work that provides a fundamental contribution to basic knowledge or a technical achievement of far-reaching consequence. CU-Boulder professor and Nobel laureate Thomas Cech and senior research associate Arthur Zaug were co-winners of the award in 1986-87 for a paper showing that RNA can act as a catalyst in living cells.

Sharing the 1995-96 award is a group of four researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for a paper providing new information about how the human immunodeficiency virus infects immune system cells.

"Both of these papers epitomize excellence in basic research," said the AAAS announcement. "Each series of studies represents an important demonstration of the ways in which significant basic scientific discoveries can provide unexpected benefits both for future researchers and for society."

Predicted by Albert Einstein in 1924, the Bose-Einstein condensate occurs when individual atoms meld into a "superatom" at about 170 billionths of a degree above absolute zero. It was first created in a campus laboratory by cooling rubidium atoms in a laser trap, followed by further evaporative cooling in a partially spinning magnetic trap.

The Bose-Einstein condensate has been replicated in other laboratories and scientists around the world have started building equipment aimed at creating the unusual form of matter. The condensate may advance the development of atomic lasers, a potentially useful tool for making fine-scale patterns, and may also assist physicists in understanding superconductivity and quantum mechanics.

The Bose-Einstein condensate also was named Science magazine's Molecule of the Year in 1995.