Ian Spielman, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute, a collaborative enterprise of NIST and the University of Maryland, was selected to receive the Junior BEC Award 2011 by the award committee of the biannual Bose-Einstein Condensation Conference for "the first experimental realization of synthetic magnetic fields and spin-orbit couplings in atomic Bose-Einstein condensates."
An atomic-gas Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) is a state of matter encountered at extremely low temperatures, on the order of 100 nanokelvins or less—more than one billion times colder than room temperature. BECs are nearly perfect quantum mechanical systems in which physicists can, among other things, study poorly understood phenomena important for materials with technological applications, without all the complexities of material systems.
The technique of creating "synthetic" fields, pioneered by Spielman and his colleagues, not only paves the way for using electrically neutral atoms to explore the complex natural phenomena involving charged particles in magnetic fields, but also may contribute to an exotic new form of quantum computing.
The Junior BEC Award goes to young scientists for high-quality independent research performed early in their careers. Winners receive €2,500 and a certificate detailing their achievements. TOPTICA Photonics AG, a privately held manufacturer of lasers and associated products, sponsors the prize.
To read more about the work for which Spielman was recognized, see the Dec. 15, 2009, NIST news announcement, "JQI Researchers Create 'Synthetic Magnetic Fields' for Neutral Atoms" and the March 15, 2011, NIST Tech Beat article, "First Demonstration of 'Spin-Orbit Coupling' in Ultracold Atomic Gases."
The awards will be presented at the Bose-Einstein Conference in Sant Feliu, Spain, Sept. 10-16, 2011. This will be the first presentation of the BEC Awards. The 2011 Senior BEC Award will go to Gora Shlyapnikov of the Université Paris-Sud, France, and the University of Amsterdam.