© Left: Steven Chu, Stanford University; Middle: Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Jean-FranÇois DARS, Laboratoire Kastler Brossel; Right: William D. Phillips, NIST.
The 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Steven Chu of Stanford University, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji of École Normale Supérieure, Paris, and William D. Phillips of NIST, "for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light." Phillips discovered that the temperature of atoms in an optical molasses is lower than theory predicts, a stroke of good luck and a rare exception to the rule that things generally don't work as well as one might hope. Chu and Cohen-Tannoudji developed an elegant theoretical explanation. Their theory pointed the way to getting to still lower temperatures. Their work opened the way to the discovery of Bose-Einstein condensation and provided the backbone for the field of ultracold atoms. (Unit: 5)