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Bill Phillips, Nobel Laureate and Juniata Alum, to Speak on Campus

(Posted February 14, 2005)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- William Phillips, 1970 graduate of Juniata College and winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Physics, will return to his alma mater to give a talk on "Time, Einstein and the Coolest Stuff in the World" at 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 24 in Alumni Hall in the Brumbaugh Academic Center on the Juniata campus.

The event is free and open to the public.

Phillips, whose parents were natives of Altoona, grew up in Camp Hill, Pa. An atomic physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Md., Phillips was jointly awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize for Physics with Steven Chu, a physicist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, a physicist at College de France and Ecole Normale Superiere in Paris, France. The researchers were awarded the Nobel for advancing basic knowledge and new techniques to chill atoms to extremely low temperatures.

Phillips' talk will center on how time is measured and how the thermal motion of atoms can affect the accuracy of time measurement. Phillips will explain how atomic clocks, the most accurate timepieces ever constructed, are affected by the movement of hot atoms which can cause time shifts.

He will illustrate his groundbreaking research by showing how atoms can be cooled by shining laser light on them. As the atoms cool to a temperature one millionth of a degree above Absolute Zero, researchers can construct even more accurate clocks. "These clocks are so accurate that they would gain or lose only 1 second in 40 million years," Phillips says.

Phillips and his team are continuing to study ultra-cold trapped atoms, research focused on applications for improved accuracy in atomic clocks and in fabrication of nanostructures. Phillips envisions using light to focus an atom laser to create what might be the basis of a next generation of ultra-small structures for electronic circuits.

Phillips earned a summa cum laude bachelor's degree in physics from Juniata in 1970. He went on to earn a doctoral degree in physics in 1976 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He was named Chaim Weizmann Postdoctoral Fellow in 1976 and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1995. In 1995, he was named an NIST Fellow and in 1997 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. He received the Arthur L. Schawlow Prize in Laser Science in 1998.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.