Carl E. Wieman’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 2001
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Laureates of the past century, Ladies and Gentlemen,
On the behalf of my colleagues Eric Cornell and Wolfgang Ketterle I would like to say how honored and delighted we are to receive the Nobel Prize in physics for our work on the creation and study of Bose-Einstein condensation. However, the true nature and strength of science is that it is a grand staircase formed by the steps built by many individuals over many years, and often important steps come from very unexpected places. Bose-Einstein condensation provides a particularly vivid illustration of this metaphor. The origins of BEG are nearly as old as the Nobel prize itself, beginning in 1924 with the young Indian physicist Bose explaining the color of light given off by an object as it is heated. Einstein then extended Bose’s work on light to describe atoms. His equations predicted that a gas would tranform into a radically new form of matter if cooled to impossibly low temperatures. This was far ahead of its time. However, over the decades physicists have learned that there were many wider implications of this work and predicted many remarkable properties for the material of Einstein’s equations. These ranged from explaining the underlying mechanism of superfluidity to the extended coherence of atomic waves. By building on many advances in science and technology, often recognized by the Nobel Prize such as the inventions of the laser and laser cooling of atoms, and the extensive work in atomic hydrogen, we were able to finally make the impossibly low temperatures possible, and the Bose-Einstein condensate appeared 70 years after its conception. We see this as a landing on the staircase of Bose-Einstein physics that extends 70 years into the past, and we look forward to seeing where it will lead in the coming 70.