Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771  


Monday, September 8, 2003 / 3:30 PM, Building 3 Auditorium 

 Schneebaum Award Ceremony and Lecture

William Phillips

"Time, Einstein, and the Coldest Stuff in the Universe"

ABSTRACT -- What is time? Even Einstein had a hard time answering this question, but in spite of that, we can measure time more accurately than any other quantity. Atomic clocks are the most accurate timepieces ever made, and are essential for such features of modern life as synchronization of high speed communication and the operation of the Global Positioning System (GPS) that guides aircraft, cars, boats, and backcountry hikers to their destinations. The limitations of atomic clocks come from the thermal motion of the atoms: hot atoms move rapidly and suffer from time shifts as predicted by Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Contrary to intuition, we can cool things by shining laser light on them. With laser cooling, we cool gases to less than one millionth of a degree above Absolute Zero. The slowly moving atoms in such a gas allow us to make even more accurate clocks, already so good that they would gain or lose only a second in 30 million years. Laser cooling has also made possible the observation of a long-standing prediction of Einstein: Bose-Einstein condensation, hailed as one of the most important recent scientific developments.

SPEAKER -- William D. Phillips was born in 1948, in Wilkes-Barre PA, and attended public schools in Pennsylvania. He received the B.S. in Physics from Juniata College in 1970 and the Ph.D. from MIT in 1976. After two years as a Chaim Weizmann postdoctoral fellow at MIT, he joined the staff of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (then the National Bureau of Standards) in 1978. He is a NIST Fellow, leader of the Laser Cooling and Trapping Group (a non-NASA link) in the Atomic Physics Division of NIST's Physics Laboratory, and is a Distinguished professor of physics at the University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. Phillips is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He is the recipient of the Gold Medal of the U. S. Department of Commerce (1993), the Michelson Medal of the Franklin Institute (1996) and the Schawlow Prize of the American Physical Society (1998). In 1997, Dr. Phillips shared the Nobel Prize in Physics "for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light". 

Colloquium Committee Sponsor: Jim Heaney, Swales Aerospace, 301-902-4531
Next Week: "The Falcon Launch Vehicle -- A Starting Point for Revolutionizing Access to Space", Elon Musk, SpaceX
Engineering Colloquium home page: http://ecolloq.gsfc.nasa.gov