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NIST Physicist Honored for Measuring Forces between Ultra-cool Atoms

For Immediate Release: October 25, 2007

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Contact: Michael Baum

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has named NIST physicist Paul D. Lett as one of its new fellows. AAAS cites Lett for his work in developing a technique that can be used to measure the forces between atoms cooled very close to absolute zero (–273.15 degrees Celsius or –459.67 degrees Fahrenheit). The technique, known as molecular photoassociative spectroscopy, shines laser light on two slowly colliding atoms in an ultracold gas and gives them energy to join together and form molecules. The colors (frequencies) of the light that allow this to happen provide information on the forces the atoms exert on one another, and yields information on the structure of the molecules and the basic nature of different types of atoms. In their citation, AAAS calls the technique "the single most powerful tool for studying the interactions between ultracold atoms." Lett, who is also affiliated with the NIST-University of Maryland Joint Quantum Institute, will be presented with an official certificate and a gold rosette pin on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2008, during the 2008 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston.