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Physics department to host three Nobelists

by Cindy Weiss - September 22, 2008


Three Nobel Prize winners in physics will lecture here this fall, starting with David M. Lee on Sept. 26, a 1996 Nobel Prize winner who received his master’s degree in physics at UConn in 1955.

He is considered an expert on liquid helium and the research on it during the past 100 years.

Lee, the James Gilbert White Distinguished Professor in the Physical Sciences emeritus at Cornell University, will lecture on “One Hundred Years of Superfluidity,” at 4 p.m. on Sept. 26 in the Gant Science Complex, Room P036.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the liquefaction of helium by Kammerlingh Onnes in Leiden, Holland, which led to Onnes’s discovery of superconductivity in 1911.

“Superfluidity is a strange form of matter predicted by quantum mechanics,” says Barrett Wells, associate professor of physics. In this form, liquid can even flow uphill out of a beaker.

Superfluidity was first discovered in helium 4, the most common helium isotope, in 1937. Lee and his co-workers showed that superfluidity also exists in helium 3. This was previously not thought to be possible, because of the uneven number of basic particles in its nucleus. In 1996, Lee shared the physics Nobel Prize for his work on helium 3.

Lee’s talk is the Charles Reynolds Lecture, named for a former physics professor at UConn with whom Lee studied.

Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, who shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997, will deliver two talks here, on Oct. 1 and Oct. 3. Tannoudji, who was born in Algeria when it was part of France, is a professor at the College de France and is associated with the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.

On Oct. 1 at 4 p.m. in the Gant Science Complex, Room P038, he will deliver a technical talk on “Manipulating Helium Atoms, from Optical Pumping to Bose-Einstein Condensation.”

This is the Hascoe Lecture, named for the late Norman Hascoe of Greenwich, Conn. The Hascoe lecture is aimed at informing undergraduates about frontier areas of science, but it is also open to the public.

Cohen-Tannoudji will give a second lecture, more suited to a general audience: the Pollack Distinguished Lecture on Oct. 3 at 4 p.m. in the Gant Science Complex, Room P038. He will speak on “Measuring Time with Ultracold Atoms: Achievements and Perspectives.”

Ultracold atoms, which are a promising tool for building highly exact atomic clocks, are atoms with a temperature just a few hundred billionths of a degree above absolute zero.

Cohen-Tannoudji will discuss the possibilities that ultracold atoms have opened for atomic clocks, says his host for the lecture, Susanne Yelin, associate professor of physics.

The Pollack Distinguished Lecture is an endowed lecture series named for the late Edward Pollack, who was a longtime professor of physics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The third physics Nobelist to speak here this fall, Albert Fert, will deliver the Katzenstein Distinguished Lecture in Physics on Oct. 24 at 4 p.m. in the Gant Science Complex, Room P036.

Fert is professor of physics at the Université Paris-Sud and scientific director at the French national laboratory, the Unité Mixte de Physique CNRS-Thales in Orsay.

He shared last year’s physics Nobel Prize for the discovery of giant magnetoresistance (GMR), the effect that has fueled a dramatic increase in the capacity of computer hard drives and has led to the development of a new field of research known as spintronics.

This was the first Nobel Prize awarded in the emerging field of nanoscience.

Fert will talk about his discovery of the GMR phenomenon in 1988, and the research and applications leading from it. One of the potential applications of spintronics is to combine storage and processing in computers into a single unit. This would lead to “a paradigm shift in information technology,” says Boris Sinkovic, associate professor of physics.

The Katzenstein Distinguished Lecture is an endowed annual lecture named for the late Henry Katzenstein, who in 1954 received the first doctoral degree in physics at UConn. He was a fellow graduate student here with David Lee.

He later co-founded a California semiconductor company, and in 1996 he established an endowment that funds the annual lecture and a student prize in his name. Lee was the first Katzenstein lecturer in 1997, the year after he received the Nobel Prize.

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