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May 13, 2009

Procter Prize Physicist Helped Create New Field

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC - Physicist Deborah S. Jin at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) helped establish a new field of physics.

In November, she will receive Sigma Xi’s highest honor, the William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement, and deliver the annual Procter Prize Address during the Society's Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference, set for November 12-15 in Houston, Texas.

In 1999, Jin and graduate student Brian DeMarco created a new quantum gas that was named one of the top 10 scientific advances of the year by the journal Science.

They cooled a vapor of fermions—one of the two basic types of quantum particles, along with bosons—to a temperature less than a millionth of a degree above absolute zero using lasers and magnetic traps. The result was a quantum state in which atoms behave like waves.

Fermions are important throughout physics because the basic building blocks of matter-electrons, protons and neutrons-all are fermions. Jin and DeMarco's research is a step toward a better understanding of these building blocks.

Her research has been described as the crucial first step in developing superconductors that work at room temperature. The development of such superconductors could lead to faster computers, smaller cell phones and lower electric bills.

The Procter Prize has been presented annually since 1950 to an outstanding scientist or engineer who is known for effective communication of complex ideas. The prize includes a Steuben glass sculpture and $5,000. The recipient also selects a young colleague to receive a $5,000 Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid of Research.

Past recipients include prominent researchers in diverse fields, such as physics Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann, animal behaviorist Jane Goodall, geologist Stephen Jay Gould and oceanographer Robert Ballard.


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