Nobel Laureate Speaker Series 2023–2024
Globe Hall, HT - High Technology and Science Center (map)
Join us for Montgomery College's inaugural Nobel laureate speaker series. These talks are designed to be engaging for everyone. There will be a light reception after each presentation.
Dr. David J. Wineland
Quantum systems such as atoms can be used to store information. For example, we can store a binary bit of information in two energy levels of an atom, labeling the state with lower energy a “0" and the state with higher energy a “1.” However, quantum systems can also exist in “superposition states”, thereby storing both states of the bit simultaneously, a situation that makes no sense in our ordinary-day experience. This property of quantum bits or “qubits” potentially leads to an exponential increase in memory and processing capacity. It would enable a quantum computer to efficiently solve certain problems such as factorizing large numbers, a capability that could compromise the security of current encryption systems. It could also be used to simulate the action of other important quantum systems in cases where such a simulation would be intractable on a conventional computer. A quantum computer would also realize an analog of "Schrödinger's Cat," a bizarre situation where a cat could be simultaneously dead and alive. Experiments whose goal is to realize a quantum computer based on laser manipulations of atomic ions will be described but this is just one platform that many groups around the world are investigating.
David Wineland received a B.A. degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1965 and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1970. Following a postdoctoral position at the University of Washington in Seattle, he joined the Time and Frequency Division of NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) in Boulder, Colorado, from 1975 to 2018, where he was a group leader and NIST Fellow. He is now a Philip H. Knight Distinguished Research Chair and Research Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Oregon in Eugene, OR.
Starting with graduate school, a long-term goal of his work has been to increase the precision of atomic spectroscopy, the measurement of the frequencies of atoms’ characteristic vibrations. This research has applications to making better atomic clocks and has led to experiments that enable precise control of atomic energy levels and atomic motion. Such control can be applied to metrology whose precision is limited only by the constraints of quantum mechanics and to demonstrations of the basic building blocks of a quantum computer. For this work, he shared the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics with Serge Haroche, Collège de France, Paris.
Dr. William D. Phillips
Monday, November 6, 3-4 p.m. (event flyer (PDF, ) )
Nobel Prize in Physics 1997new window
How We Measure Up: the revolutionary changes to the way science measures almost everything
Traditional, ancient units for measurement were based on the human body. For example, the foot was the English unit of length. But the development of commerce and technology demanded more precise units. The French Revolution ushered in the Metric System, based on physical artifacts—a platinum cylinder as the standard kilogram and a platinum rod as the standard meter. In the last few years the modern metric system has seen the greatest revolution since the French Revolution. Today all of our units are based on the unchanging nature of the laws of physics. Prof. Phillips will recount the history of measurement units from ancient to modern times and how the international scientific community became free of artifacts.
William D. Phillips received a B.S. in physics from Juniata College in 1970, and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976; after two years as a Chaim Weizmann postdoctoral fellow at MIT, he joined NIST (then the National Bureau of Standards) to work on precision electrical measurements and fundamental constants. There, he initiated a new research program to cool atomic gases with laser light. He founded NIST’s Laser Cooling and Trapping Group, and later was a founding member of the Joint Quantum Institute, a cooperative research organization of NIST and the University of Maryland that is devoted to the study of quantum coherent phenomena. His research group has been responsible for developing some of the main techniques now used for laser-cooling and cold-atom experiments in laboratories around the world. Their achievements include the first electromagnetic trapping of neutral atoms; reaching unexpectedly low laser-cooling temperatures, within a millionth of a degree of Absolute Zero; the confinement of atoms in optical lattices; and coherent atom-optical manipulation of atomic-gas Bose-Einstein condensates. Atomic fountain clocks, based on the work of this group, are now the primary standards for world timekeeping and lattice-trapped atoms are among the likely candidates for future primary frequency standards. Among the group’s current research directions are the use of ultra-cold atoms for quantum information processing and quantum simulation of important physical problems. Read more about Dr. Phillips on the NIST sitenew window.
Dr. Phillips is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a Fellow and Honorary Member of OPTICA (formerly the Optical Society), a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and a corresponding member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences. In 1997, Dr. Phillips shared the Nobel Prize in Physics "for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light."
Dr. John C. Mather
Monday, October 23, 2-3 p.m. (event flyer (PDF, ) )
Nobel Prize in Physics 2006new window
Opening the Infrared Treasure Chest with JWST
The James Webb Space Telescope was launched on Dec. 25, 2021, and commissioning was completed in early July 2022. With its 6.5 m golden eye, and cameras and spectrometers covering 0.6 to 28 µm, Webb is already producing magnificent images of galaxies, active galactic nuclei, star-forming regions, and planets. Scientists are hunting for some of the first objects that formed after the Big Bang, the first black holes (primordial or formed in galaxies), and beginning to observe the growth of galaxies, the formation of stars and planetary systems, individual exoplanets through coronography and transit spectroscopy, and all objects in the Solar System from Mars on out. It could observe a 1 cm2 bumblebee at the Earth-Moon distance, in reflected sunlight and thermal emission. Dr. Mather demonstrated how they built the Webb and what they hope to find. Webb is a joint project of NASA with the European and Canadian space agencies.
Dr. John C. Mather is a Civil Servant and Senior Astrophysicist in the Observational Cosmology Laboratory located at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Until 2023, he served as the Senior Project Scientist on the James Webb Space Telescope, extending the scientific discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope to look farther out in space and farther back in time.
He grew up in rural New Jersey living on a scientific research facility where his father studied dairy cows. He attended public schools, learned calculus from a book, received a bachelor's degree in physics from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, and wanted to be like Richard Feynman. But his doctorate in physics from the University of California, Berkeley led him into observations of the Big Bang, with an unsuccessful thesis project that nevertheless inspired the COBE satellite and a Nobel Prize.
As a National Research Council postdoctoral fellow at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York City, he led the proposal efforts for the Cosmic Background Explorer mission (1974-76), and moved to Goddard Space Flight Center to be the lead scientist for the mission.
Mather and the COBE team showed that the cosmic microwave background radiation has a blackbody spectrum within 50 parts per million (ppm), confirming the expanding universe concept (Big Bang theory) to extraordinary accuracy. The team also measured hot and cold spots in the heat radiation; Steven Hawking said it was the greatest scientific discovery of the century, if not of all time.
As Senior Project Scientist (1995-2023) for the Webb telescope, Mather led the science team, and represented scientific interests within the project management. Read more about Dr. Mather on the James Webb Space Telescope sitenew window.
As winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics, chosen by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Mather shares the prize with George F. Smoot of the University of California for their work using the COBE satellite to measure the heat radiation from the Big Bang. Mather put the prize money into the John and Jane Mather Foundation for Science and the Arts. Mather also sponsors summer interns to work on science policy on Capitol Hill, through the Society of Physics Students.