Published October 09, 2001
STOCKHOLM, Sweden – The creation of a new state of matter predicted by Albert Einstein earned two Americans and a German-born scientist the world's most prestigious award in physics — the 100th annual Nobel Prize.
The physicists in 1995 created an ultra-cold gas known as the Bose-Einstein condensate, in which particles are slowed down so much that they become a fourth form of matter, joining the more conventional states, gas, liquid and solid.
The condensate could be used, among other things, to learn more about the fundamental nature of matter and to develop nanotechnology — tinier, super-fast electronics replacing metal on computer circuit boards with a stream of atoms.
The advances are "going to bring revolutionary applications in such fields as precision measurement and nanotechnology," or micro-machines, according to the citation by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
"Revolutionary applications ... appear to be just round the corner," the citation said.
Eric A. Cornell, 39, of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo.; Carl E. Wieman, 50, of the University of Colorado; and German-born Wolfgang Ketterle, 43, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will share a $943,000 prize.
Cornell and Wieman also work at JILA, a research institute in Boulder formerly known as the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics. Ketterle worked independently of them in Germany before he arrived at MIT in 1990.
The term Bose-Einstein refers to Indian physicist S.N. Bose and era-defining scientist Albert Einstein, a German-born Princeton, N.J., resident. As early as 1924, Bose did statistical research on light particles called photons and sent his work to Einstein, who extended the theory to cover mass. Einstein predicted that when particles slow down and approach each other, they produce the new state of matter.
The academy noted that more than 20 groups are conducting experiments with Bose-Einstein condensates but add that the laureates "have maintained their lead and many interesting new results have been presented."
The Nobel awards started Monday with the naming of the three physiology or medicine prize winners, American researcher Leland H. Hartwell and Britons Tim Hunt and Paul Nurse. Their work on cell development has helped researchers understand how cancer grows and could lead to new treatments.
The chemistry prize will be awarded on Wednesday together with the economics prize. On Friday, the winner of the coveted peace prize — the only one not awarded in Sweden — will be announced in Oslo, Norway. The literature award will be announced Thursday.
Last year, half of the physics prize went to Zhores I. Alferov of the A.F. Ioffe Physico-Technical Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Herbert Kroemer, a German-born researcher at the University of California at Santa Barbara. They developed technology used in satellite communications and cellular phones.
Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments in Dallas got the other half for his part in the invention and development of the integrated circuit, the forerunner of the microchip, and as a co-inventor of the pocket calculator.
Alfred Nobel was a wealthy Swedish industrialist and the inventor of dynamite who endowed the physics, chemistry, literature, medicine and peace prizes. In his will he said the prizes should be given to those who "shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind" and "shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics."
The prizes always are presented to the winners on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896. To mark the 100th anniversary of the prizes, all living laureates have been invited to the ceremonies this year, with some 150 expected in Stockholm and 30 in Oslo.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.