Wolfgang Ketterle: 2001 - Physics

Wolfgang Ketterle
Wolfgang Ketterle

Year & Category

2001 Nobel Prize in Physics (jointly with the Americans Eric A. Cornell and Carl E. Wieman)

Prize motivation

“For the achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali atoms, and for early fundamental studies of the properties of the condensates”

At the time of the award he worked at

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA, USA

About his research

Predicted by Einstein decades earlier
A Bose-Einstein condensate is nothing less than a new state of matter in which all atoms behave in the same way. This state was predicted by Albert Einstein and the Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose as long ago as 1924. However, the first Bose-Einstein condensate was only created in June 1995 when the US Americans Eric A. Cornell and Carl E. Wieman succeeded in cooling a gaseous cloud of rubidium atoms to less than 170 nanokelvin. Three months later, Wolfgang Ketterle achieved a Bose-Einstein condensate of sodium atoms at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a hundred times more atoms than Cornell and Wieman had managed.

Work on atomic lasers
Ketterle also succeeded in controlling the atoms to such an extent that he was able to use them to develop the very first atomic laser. Nanotechnology and the computer industry have great hopes of atomic lasers in the future. In 2003, as part of their effort to control these minute particles, Ketterle and his colleagues set a new world record: they cooled atoms to a temperature of just 0.00000000045 kelvin above absolute zero. These ultracold atoms are also important for Ketterle’s current research into quantum magnetism. In 2009 the researcher accomplished a remarkable breakthrough in this field: Ketterle and his team at MIT were the first scientists to observe magnetism in a gas.