September 1, 2010                                        

AMHERST, Mass. – Nobel Laureate William Phillips, a renowned physicist and fellow at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), will deliver a lecture titled “Time, Einstein and the Coolest Stuff in the Universe” on Thursday, Sept. 9, at 7:30 p.m. in Room 1 of the Merrill Science Center at Amherst College. The talk is free and open to the public.

William Phillips, fellow with the National Institute for
Standards and  Technology. (Photo courtesy of NIST)

According to Phillips, Einstein changed the way we, as humans, think about nature at the beginning of the 20th century. Now, at the start of the 21st century, Einstein’s thinking is shaping one of the key scientific and technological wonders of contemporary life: atomic clocks, the best timekeepers ever made. Such super-accurate clocks are essential to industry, commerce and science; they are the heart of the Global Positioning System (GPS), which guides cars, airplanes and hikers to their destinations.

Phillips will discuss atomic clocks, atomic gases, primary clocks and related topics in a lively multimedia presentation that will feature experimental demonstrations and down-to-earth explanations about some of today’s most exciting science.

Phillips fell in love with science as a grade-school student. After earning his doctorate in physics from M.I.T., he began working at NIST in 1978. There, he pursued research in laser-cooling and his discoveries have helped open up a new field of atomic research and expand our knowledge of physics. His findings have found important application in precision timekeeping, which is important for both private industry and national security. In 1997, William received the Nobel Prize for Physics along with two other scientists. His election to the National Academy of Sciences—considered one of the highest possible honors for a U.S. scientist or engineer—occurred that same year.