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Bill Phillips, Nobel Laureate, to Lecture on 'Cool Stuff,' Time

(Posted November 8, 2013)

Bill Phillips, one of three scientists awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- William Phillips, a 1970 Juniata College graduate and a co-winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Physics, will return to Juniata to speak to several physics classes and give a lecture on "Time, Einstein and the Coolest Stuff in the Universe," at 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 21, in Alumni Hall in the Brumbaugh Academic Center on the Juniata campus.

The lecture is free and open to the public. Phillips' lecture is sponsored by the Juniata Department of Physics.

Phillips, who shared the Nobel Prize with Steven Chu, the former Secretary of Energy from 2008 to 2013 and a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, a researcher at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, was honored by the Nobel panel for his work in laser cooling, a technique used to slow the movement of gaseous atoms in order to study them.

His lecture topic will address his work in cooling atoms, but it also will approach physics from the perspective of "Isn't that cool!" as well. Phillips will talk about how Einstein's theories about time, made in the early 20th century, can now be tested thanks to the science Phillips, his Nobel laureate colleagues and others pioneered.

He will discuss how Einstein's theories and ultra-cold atoms are used to make atomic clocks even more accurate. "Such super-accurate clocks are essential to industry, commerce and science," Phillips says. "Atomic clocks are at the heart of Global Positioning System technology, which guides airplanes, cars and hikers to their destinations."

Phillips will explain how atomic clocks use ultra-cold atoms to achieve accuracies better than a second in 100 million years. "Super-cold atoms, with temperatures that can be below a billionth off a degree above absolute zero, can be used or can enable tests of Einstein's strangest predictions," he says.

For those expecting a dry, academic lecture, think again. Phillips will be orchestrating a multimedia presentation that includes levitation (of objects, not himself), and uses such visual aids as carnations, balloons and racquetballs.

In addition to his public lecture on Thursday, Phillips will remain on campus through Friday to speak to physics classes.

Phillips, whose parents were natives of Altoona, Pa., grew up in Camp Hill, Pa. Phillips is an atomic physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Md.

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.