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Cornell and Wieman Share 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics

Eric A. Cornell of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Carl E. Wieman of the University of Colorado at Boulder today were awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics. They shared the prize with Wolfgang Ketterle, a German citizen residing in the United States and professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.

Cornell, 39, is a senior scientist at the U.S. Department of Commerce's NIST and an adjoint professor of physics at CU-Boulder. Wieman, 50, is a distinguished professor of physics and has taught at CU-Boulder since 1984. Both are fellows of JILA, a joint institute of CU-Boulder and NIST.

The three winners will share the $943,000 prize for research leading to the landmark 1995 creation of the Bose-Einstein condensate and early studies of its properties. The BEC is a new form of matter that occurs at just a few hundred billionths of a degree above absolute zero.

The 2001 Nobel laureates will receive their awards in Stockholm, Sweden, on Dec. 10.

Cornell and Wieman become the second and third Nobel Prize winners at CU-Boulder, while Cornell is the second for NIST. Thomas Cech, a CU-Boulder professor of chemistry and biochemistry, was a co-winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize in chemistry. William Phillips, a NIST fellow, shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics.

Cornell said, "I was thrilled to hear the news. It is really very gratifying to be recognized for this work. It is a wonderful thing for NIST and the University of Colorado, and it is very appropriate and an honor to share this award with my good friends Carl [Wieman] and Wolfgang [Ketterle]."

Wieman said he heard about the award from his brother at about 4 a.m. "I have an unlisted number, as does Eric, and so my brother saw it on the Internet and called me up and that's how I found out."

"This is a tremendous thrill because this is the highest award that a scientist can achieve for his or her work," Wieman said. "Interestingly, I discovered that I wasn't as excited about this as when we actually achieved Bose-Einstein condensate. That was the ultimate thrill."

As a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce's Technology Administration, NIST develops and promotes measurements, standards, and technology to enhance productivity, facilitate trade, and improve the quality of life.

Quotes About the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics Winners


"All of us at the Department of Commerce are extremely proud of Eric Cornell of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a Commerce Department scientist who is a co-recipient of the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics. Cornell, working with Carl Wieman of the University of Colorado, created an exotic new state of matter, the Bose-Einstein condensation. He is an exemplary scientist, whose enthusiasm for discovery reflects the Commerce Department and the U.S. government's finest. His achievement meets our goal of exceeding our limits and embracing innovative ways to support U.S. industry through a strong foundation in basic measurement science."


"The awarding of the Nobel Prize to University of Colorado Professors Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman is a great moment for the university, for these two outstanding scholars and for the world of science. Their achievement of the Bose-Einstein condensate—one of the 'Holy Grails' in the world of physics—is an inspiration to all physicists worldwide, and to all faculty members at CU and across the country."


"NIST is extremely proud of Eric Cornell and his marvelous accomplishment, along with Carl Wieman of the University of Colorado and Wolfgang Ketterle at MIT. For an institution that has always recognized scientific and technical excellence as one of its fundamental values, this achievement is especially rewarding. On behalf of all of NIST's employees and the science and industrial communities that we serve, I salute the winners on this momentous occasion."


"The awarding of the Nobel Prize in physics to Carl and Eric brings great honor to these researchers, as well as to the entire university and to the citizens of Colorado. In addition to being internationally acclaimed atomic physicists, both Carl and Eric teach undergraduates, take high school students on tours of their laboratories and make sure the excitement of their research gets transferred into the classroom at every opportunity."


The Physics Laboratory is thrilled that Eric Cornell, Carl Wieman and Wolfgang Ketterle are sharing the Nobel Prize in physics. They are extremely talented and deserving young men. Their creations of the first Bose-Einstein condensates of atomic gases were a scientific triumph of the first order and have launched an entirely new, exponentially growing field of physics. Eric and Carl's contribution is a proud demonstration of what can be achieved in a collaboration such as JILA between a federal agency and a major state university.


"All of us at JILA are extremely proud and happy for Carl and Eric. I'd like to think that this reflects in some way on the stimulating scientific environment at JILA and the high level of support from the JILA staff. It's worth remembering that Carl and Eric carried out their deep and fundamental work, which is changing the ways in which we think about the structure of matter, in an open lab, with the participation of CU students. We're very grateful to have had the state and federal support which has made this possible."


"It's absolutely stunning—a great reflection on the two parent institutions, CU and NIST. This is first-rate science, and yet it is table-top science, not some giant machine. It's a great tribute to the foresight of these institutions in establishing and nurturing JILA. NIST and CU should be very proud."


"Winning the Nobel is a fantastic achievement, particularly so soon after the discovery for which Cornell and Wieman are being recognized. All of us in Boulder are very, very proud of them and of the wonderfully productive CU-NIST collaboration that helped make this achievement possible."

Additional Contact: caughey [at] (Peter Caughey), CU Boulder, 303-492-6431

* Updated 1-3-2017 with the removal of dead links.

Released October 9, 2001, Updated January 12, 2023