April 19, 2014  

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Nobel Prize Winner to Present Science Lecture on Southern Miss Campus

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Nobel Prize winner Eric Cornell will visit the Southern Miss campus on Nov. 30. (Submitted photo)

Nobel Laureate and renowned physicist Eric Cornell will share his expertise with the general public during a lecture on Nov. 30 at the Thad Cochran Center on The University of Southern Mississippi campus.

One of three winners of the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics, Cornell is scheduled to speak at the invitation of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) at Southern Miss. His visit is the result of the Nobel Laureates Visitation Program established by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) with generous support from the Research Corporation. Cornell’s lecture is set for 7 p.m. in Ballroom I of the Thad Cochran Center.

Cornell is a professor of Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder and a Fellow of JILA (formerly known as the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics), an interdisciplinary research institute run jointly by the University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. 

“A Nobel prize winner visiting our campus allows us to increase scientific awareness at Southern Miss and in the Hattiesburg community,” said Dr. Joe B. Whitehead Jr., dean of the College of Science and Technology at Southern Miss.  “This increased awareness will translate into more students participating in scientific careers.” 

“The goal of the SPS/AIP program is to give undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to have personal and informal interactions with Nobel Laureates while learning about exciting new areas of research and what is involved in pursuing a career in science,” said Dr. Alina Gearba, SPS faculty advisor.

Cornell shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in phys­ics with Carl Wieman, also of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Wolfgang Ketterle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology “for the achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali atoms, and for early fundamental studies of the properties of the condensates.” 

The Bose-Einstein Condensate is an exotic state of matter only possible at extremely low temperatures, a few billionths of a degree above Absolute Zero. In a normal gas, atoms move independently of each other. If the temperature of the gas is lowered enough, the atoms will start moving in unison, thus behaving as a giant “super-atom.”  This “super-atom” is known as Bose-Einstein Condensate. 

 In the quest for Absolute Zero, the realization of the condensate was a long-sought dream of physicists. Predicted by Bose and Einstein in 1924-1925, it took 70 years for the condensate to be created in the laboratory, in 1995, by Cornell, Wieman and Ketterle. 

Today physicists are working on controlling the condensate to create new technologies, such as an atomic laser, a device that delivers a coherent beam of atoms, as opposed to a laser that delivers a coherent beam of light. One day, this super-cold beam of atoms could be used for making measurements far more precise that those made with lasers.  It could also be used for making extremely small computer chips, taking nano-science to an entire new level of precision.

Cornell received his doctorate in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1990 and his bachelor of science in physics, with honor and distinction, from Stanford University in 1985. 

He won several prestigious awards including the Benjamin Franklin Medal in physics from the Franklin Institute in 1999, the Lorentz Medal from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1998, the Rabi Prize in atomic, molecular and optical Physics from the American Physical Society in 1997, the King Faisal International Prize in Science in 1997 and the Fritz London Award for low-temperature physics in 1996.