Tag Archives: Nobel prize

Nobel laureates at Berkeley

This holiday season, we will have many exciting Nobel laureate lectures to listen to at the 2014 Nobel Prize Award Ceremony (held annually on 10 December, the anniversary Alfred Nobel’s death). This year’s list of laureates includes awards for the creation of the blue LED, development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy, and discovery of the brain’s

Nobel recap: Cal alum again takes home physics prize

The streak is at two and counting. One year after Berkeley Lab scientist Saul Perlmutter took home the Nobel Prize in Physics, another Cal grad has earned himself a seat of honor at Stockholm’s Nobel ceremony this December. This year, the winner is David Wineland, a former Berkeley physicist who went on to conduct groundbreaking research on quantum physics at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST).

Wineland earned the award for the development and application of a technique for manipulating atoms with light in the 1980s and 1990s. When an atom is confined in a small trap and shielded from interacting with other atoms, its quantum behavior can be probed experimentally. Phenomena like the one famously described by Schrödinger’s Cat, originally conceived as a thought experiment, can be directly observed. However, experiments on isolated atoms proved elusive for many years. The challenge for experimentalists is twofold: to create a trap strong enough and isolated enough for the atom to display quantum behavior and then to observe that behavior. Wineland addressed this problem by using electric fields to confine an atom to a small region within a vacuum chamber, where it was far removed from any other atoms that might disturb it. Then, to measure the behavior of the atom, examined how it interacted with light. His efforts pioneered the field now known as quantum optics.

Getting personal with Martie Chalfie

In the latest print issue of the Berkeley Science Review I wrote about my experiences at the Lindau Meeting last summer, where graduate students and Nobel laureates from around the world mingle for a week in Bavaria.

One of the scheduled participants in the meeting was Martin Chalfie, a co-recipient of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his pioneering use of the Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) in non-invasive biological imaging. Unfortunately, he had to skip the meeting at the last minute. However, through a fortuitous series of coincidences he and I ended up participating in an online dialogue about making ones way as a young scientist. It was pretty cool to get advice from (and maybe even prod just a little bit) such a distinguished scientist. Check it out here if you are interested.

Berkeley researcher Saul Perlmutter wins the Nobel prize in physics

Berkeley Labs has been abuzz with excitement over Tuesday morning’s announcement that LBL and UC Berkeley astrophysicist Saul Perlmutter won this year’s Nobel prize in physics, most notably for his research into dark energy and the accelerating expansion of the universe.  Saul is the 11th LBL scientist and 9th UC Berkeley faculty member to be awarded a Nobel prize, and he brings UC Berkeley’s running total of Nobel prizes to a whopping 22.

Earlier this year, I attended a lecture that Perlmutter gave to a public audience at the International House entitled “Stalking Dark Energy and the Mystery of the Accelerating Universe.” Every seat was taken, but that didn’t stop overflow attendees from sitting in the aisles and peaking through the doors. The rock star treatment was a testament to the public’s interest in Saul and his fascinating research topic.

It has been known for some time that the universe is expanding, but whether or not it would eventually stop growing had long remained an open question.  One popular theory at the time was that the expansion universe would eventually stall out due to the inward pull of gravitational forces. But Perlmutter surprised the scientific community by showing – through the observance of light from supernovas – that not only would the universe continue to expand, but that it would do so at an accelerating rate. For the universe to accelerate outward past the collapsing force of gravity, there must be another force propelling it away.  That force is what we now call dark energy, the “mysterious something” that comprises 73% of our universe.

Congratulations to Saul.  A comment given by Bob Cahn, head of the cosmology group at LBL, sums it up nicely: “This is the biggest discovery in the history of science, and will remain so forever, since it only leaves 25% for everyone else.”