Wieman And Cornell Win 2001 Nobel Prize In Physics

Published: Oct. 8, 2001

Distinguished Professor Carl E. Wieman of the University of Colorado at Boulder and Senior Scientist Eric A. Cornell of the National Institute of Standards and Technology today received the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics.

The prize also was awarded to Wolfgang Ketterle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Wieman said he heard about the award from his brother at about 4 a.m. "I have an unlisted number, as does Eric, and so my brother saw it on the Internet and called me up and that's how I found out.

"This is a tremendous thrill because this is the highest award that a scientist can achieve for his or her work," Wieman said. "Interestingly, I discovered that I wasn't as excited about this as when we actually achieved Bose-Einstein condensate. That was the ultimate thrill. At least in this case, I had an idea what might be coming."

Wieman is teaching a physics class for non-scientists, primarily made up of CU-Boulder freshmen, at 11 a.m. today.

"I really have to have this class because they've got a test coming up," he said.

Wieman, 50, is a distinguished professor of physics and has taught at CU-Boulder since 1984. Cornell, 39, is a senior scientist at NIST and an adjoint professor of physics at CU-Boulder. Both are fellows of JILA, a joint institute of CU-Boulder and NIST.

"I was thrilled to hear the news," Cornell said. "It is really very gratifying to be recognized for this work. It is a wonderful thing for NIST and the University of Colorado, and it is very appropriate and an honor to share this award with my good friends Carl and Wolfgang ."

Wieman and Cornell were cited for their landmark 1995 creation of the world's first Bose-Einstein condensate, a new form of matter that occurs at just a few hundred billionths of a degree above absolute zero.

The three scientists will share the $943,000 prize "for the achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali atoms, and for early fundamental studies of the properties of the condensate," according to the Nobel announcement.

Wieman and Cornell become the second and third Nobel Prize winners at CU-Boulder, and Cornell is the second for NIST. Thomas Cech, a CU-Boulder professor of chemistry and biochemistry, was a co-winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize in chemistry with Sydney Altman of Yale University for research on RNA. William Phillips, a NIST fellow, shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics.

Other reactions to today's award included:

Elizabeth Hoffman, president, University of Colorado System:

"The awarding of the Nobel Prize to University of Colorado Professors Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman is a great moment for the university, for these two outstanding scholars and for the world of science. Their achievement of the Bose-Einstein condensate -- one of the 'Holy Grails' in the world of physics -- is an inspiration to physicists worldwide, and to all faculty members at CU and across the country."

Richard L. Byyny, chancellor, CU-Boulder:

"Award of the Nobel Prize in physics to Carl and Eric brings great honor to

these researchers, as well as to the entire university and to the citizens of Colorado. In addition to being internationally acclaimed atomic physicists, both Carl and Eric teach undergraduates, take high school students on tours of their laboratories and make sure the excitement of their research gets transferred into the classroom at every opportunity."

Ellen Zweibel, chair of JILA:

"All of us at JILA are extremely proud and happy for Carl and Eric. I'd like to think that this reflects in some way on the stimulating scientific environment at JILA, and the high level of support from the JILA staff. It's worth remembering that Carl and Eric carried out their deep and fundamental work, which is changing the ways in which we think about the structure of matter, in an open lab, with the participation of CU students. We're very grateful to have had the state and federal support which has made this possible."

Susan L. Sutherland, director, NIST Boulder Laboratories:

"Winning the Nobel is a fantastic achievement, particularly so soon after the discovery for which Cornell and Wieman are being recognized. All of us in Boulder are very, very proud of them, and of the wonderfully productive CU-NIST collaboration that helped make this achievement possible."

JILA, formerly known as the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics, is an interdisciplinary institute for research and graduate education in the physical sciences located on the main campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The physics department is part of CU-Boulder's College of Arts and Sciences.

Note to Editors: Background information and photographs are posted on the Internet in a News In Depth Report and at http://jilawww.colorado.edu/bec.