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Lasers & Sources

William D. Phillips IYL Presentation: Einstein, Time, and Light

A Nobel plenary lecture from the International Year of Light opening ceremony in Paris.

6 February 2015, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/3.201502.17

At the beginning of the 20th century, Einstein changed the way we think about time and light. Now in 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.

Today, atomic clocks are still being improved, using atoms cooled by the pressure of light to incredibly low temperatures. Atomic gases now reach temperatures less than a billionth of a degree above Absolute Zero. Super-cold atoms are at the heart of Primary Clocks -- accurate to better than a second in 300 million years. Such atoms also use, and allow tests of, some of Einstein's strangest predictions. 

This multimedia presentation includes experimental demonstrations and down-to-earth explanations
of some of today's most exciting science.

William D. Phillips is a Fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI), a cooperative endeavor of the National  Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Maryland (USA). At NIST he leads the Laser Cooling and Trapping Group in the Quantum Measurement Division; at the University of Maryland he is a Distinguished University Professor of Physics; and at JQI he is the co-director of an NSF-funded Physics Frontier Center studying quantum phenomena across the subfields of physics.

In 1997, Phillips shared the Nobel Prize in Physics "for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light".