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Wolfgang Ketterle wins faculty Killian Award

Wolfgang Ketterle, 2001.
Wolfgang Ketterle, 2001.
Photo / Donna Coveney

Professor Wolfgang Ketterle, one of the first observers of a new state of matter called the Bose-Einstein condensate and creator of the first atom laser, is MIT's James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award winner for 2004-05.

The physicist shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 2001 with two MIT alumni for their discovery of Bose-Einstein condensation (BEC) in 1995. Ketterle went on to be the first scientist to realize an atom laser in 1997. Known also as an exceptional teacher and lecturer, he now has been named by his faculty colleagues to hold the Killian title and deliver a lecture on his work in spring 2005. The award was established in 1971 as a tribute to MIT's 10th president; it recognizes extraordinary professional accomplishment by an MIT faculty member.

"He is clearly one of the world's greatest scientists," Professor Robert Langer, chair of the Killian Award Committee, said of Ketterle in making the announcement at the May 19 faculty meeting.

"In the last decade no other faculty member at MIT has risen so fast, done such significant scientific work, or will give as spellbinding a faculty lecture," Langer said, reading from the nomination letter. "His public lectures set a standard of expository excellence equaled only by [Edward M.] Purcell and [Richard] Feynman ... Be sure the lecture is scheduled for Kresge--it is the only place large enough to hold the audience."

"I am surprised and honored," said Ketterle, visibly moved by the tribute. "I came here today for my hero and distinguished colleague, Dan Kleppner, who is retiring."

"I have always been proud to be at MIT, to be part of a wonderful community of excellent people," Ketterle said after the meeting. "To receive this highest honor the MIT faculty can bestow on one of its own members is a very special recognition, because it comes from people I greatly admire and appreciate." Winning the Killian Award means "to be appreciated not just as a scientist, but as a colleague and member of the MIT community," he said.

Ketterle is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Physics and a member of MIT's Research Laboratory for Electronics and the MIT-Harvard Center for Ultracold Atoms. He earned the Ph.D. in physics from the University of Munich in 1986, came to MIT as a research associate in 1990, joined the physics faculty in 1993 and was promoted to professor in 1997.

His current research is in atomic physics and laser spectroscopy, particularly laser cooling and trapping of atoms to explore new aspects of ultracold atomic matter. His research group focuses on the study and applications of quantum-degenerate gases and laser-like atomic beams. He has made pioneering contributions to sound, superfluidity and properties of multicomponent condensates.

Ketterle is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Institute of Physics, as well as the equivalent European scientific societies. In addition to the Nobel Prize, which he won with Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman, he is winner of numerous other awards, including the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (2002).

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 2, 2004 (download PDF).

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