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NIST Physicist David J. Wineland Awarded 2007 National Medal of Science

Physicist David J. Wineland of NIST Boulder Laboratories in Colorado

Physicist David J. Wineland of NIST Boulder Laboratories in Colorado

Credit: NIST

BOULDER, Colo.—Physicist David J. Wineland of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been awarded the 2007 National Medal of Science.

President George W. Bush announced the eight latest recipients of the medal today. The winners will be honored at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 29.

The National Medal of Science honors individuals for pioneering scientific research in a range of fields, including physical, biological, mathematical, social, behavioral and engineering sciences, that enhances understanding of the world and leads to innovations and technologies that give the United States a global economic edge. The National Science Foundation administers the award, which was established by the Congress in 1959.

Wineland, 64, was cited for "outstanding leadership in developing the science of laser cooling and manipulation of ions, with applications in extremely precise measurements and standards, quantum computing, and fundamental tests of quantum mechanics, and for his major impact on the international scientific community through training scientists and outstanding publications."

Since the award was established, only about 6 percent of winners have been federal employees.

Wineland is internationally recognized for developing the technique of using lasers to cool ions (electrically charged atoms or molecules) to near absolute zero, the coldest possible temperature. Wineland achieved the first demonstration of laser cooling in 1978 and has built on that breakthrough with 30 years of experiments that represent the first or best in the world - often both - in using trapped laser-cooled ions to test theories in quantum physics and demonstrate crucial applications such as new forms of computation.

Wineland's breakthroughs led to work by groups throughout the world on laser cooling and trapping of neutral atoms, culminating in the 1997 Nobel Prize to William D. Phillips of NIST, Steven Chu and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji for development of neutral atom laser cooling. In addition, Wineland's research also helped make possible the work by Eric Cornell of NIST and JILA, a joint institute of NIST and the University of Colorado at Boulder, who with Wolfgang Ketterle and Carl Wieman received the 2001 Nobel Prize for using laser cooling to create the world's first Bose-Einstein condensate.

Wineland's work led to the development of laser-cooled atomic clocks, the current state of the art in time and frequency standards. His laser-cooled trapped ion technique was used by members of his group to demonstrate an experimental clock based on a single mercury ion that is currently the best in the world, as well as a "logic clock" using an aluminum ion that is nearly as accurate. See "NIST 'Quantum Logic Clock' Rivals Mercury Ion as World's Most Accurate Clock."

Wineland also helped launch the field of experimental quantum computing. Through many pioneering experiments, his group was the first to successfully demonstrate the building blocks of a practical quantum computer, a device that could solve some problems, such as breaking the best encryption codes, that are intractable using today's technology. He also helped train new generations of scientists working throughout the world and has published more than 250 refereed articles, many in the most prestigious research journals.

Originally from Sacramento, Calif., Wineland has worked at NIST laboratories in Boulder, Colo., since 1975. He received a bachelor of science in physics from the University of California at Berkeley and master's and doctoral degrees in physics from Harvard University, where his advisor was Norman Ramsey, a 1989 Nobel Laureate in physics. Before joining NIST, Wineland worked as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Washington with Hans Dehmelt, who shared the 1989 Nobel Physics prize with Ramsey.

Wineland is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has won a host of other awards, including the Department of Commerce Gold Medal, the Society of Optical and Quantum Electronics' Einstein Medal for Laser Science, the American Physical Society's Arthur L. Schawlow Prize in Laser Science, International Award on Quantum Communications, the Optical Society of America's Frederick Ives Award, and the Presidential Rank Award for Distinguished Senior Executives and Professionals.

Visit for the official announcement. Learn more about the National Medal of Science.

Quotations from Senior NIST Management

"Dave Wineland is a prime reason why NIST is world renowned for atomic clocks and quantum computing research that advance U.S. science, innovation, and competitiveness," said James Turner, NIST deputy director. "We are proud to have him on our staff."

"Dave Wineland is an outstanding scientist who has made revolutionary contributions to the development and application of laser cooling and trapping," said Katharine Gebbie, director of NIST's Physics Laboratory. "We are all thrilled by this well-deserved recognition for him and honored that he has chosen to make his career at NIST."

Released August 25, 2008, Updated February 2, 2023