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Fostering warmth after the supercold: Nobel laureate Wolfgang Ketterle talks up U.S.-German collaboration for innovation

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Ketterle, physicsMore than a decade ago, Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist Wolfgang Ketterle was honored with University of Colorado researchers Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman for work that led to the discovery of a new state of matter called the Bose–Einstein condensate. Together, they won the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics. Citing his success, Ketterle called for even greater scientific collaboration between disciplines, universities and countries during a brief lecture he gave Friday to mark the opening of the German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI) in New York City.

Ketterle’s most prominent work as been in the area of studying supercold atoms, which scientists have been able to chill as low as 450 picokelvin (trillionths of one degree above absolute zero). This is "many, many times colder than even interstellar space," Ketterle, who is also associate director of M.I.T.’s Research Laboratory of Electronics and director of the M.I.T.–Harvard Center for Ultracold Atoms, said Friday. "It’s fascinating to see what happens inside matter" when it’s brought down to the lowest possible temperature, he added.

The physicist envisions a time—it could be five, 10 or even 20 years from now—when scientists will be able to better understand work that has begun today, in particular the relation between supercold atoms and quantum simulators as well as the composition of crystalline materials at the atomic level.

"This is the future," he said. "This research is being pursued worldwide." He noted, with a bit of irony, that some of his biggest competitors in this area are working in Germany, and that he plans to someday collaborate with them.

Ketterle gave his presentation to help promote the new GCRI, which joins similar offices in Moscow, New Delhi, São Paulo and Tokyo, each established by the German Federal Foreign Office and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.The New York GCRI will serve as a lobbying group to promote work between German and U.S. educational institutions and industry.

Image of German physicist and Nobel laureate Wolfgang Ketterle at a symposium at Brown University in 2007 courtesy of Kzirkel, via Wikimedia Commons





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