2014 Isaac Newton medal of the Institute of Physics

Professor Deborah Jin, National Institute of Standards and Technology and University of Colorado. For pioneering the field of quantum-degenerate Fermi gases.

Dr Jin

Atomic gas Bose-Einstein condensation (BEC) was long the “Holy Grail” of atomic physics. After its 1995 achievement by Cornell and Wieman at JILA and Ketterle at MIT (who shared the 2001 Nobel Prize) the field’s next supreme goal was an ultra-cold, quantum-degenerate, atomic gas of fermions. In the face of strong international competition, Jin was the first to produce this novel quantum material, in 1999, sparking a world-wide explosion of interest. Ultra-cold Fermi gases now represent one of the major activities in all of atomic physics, an activity where Jin remains the leader and pioneer.

Producing a quantum degenerate Fermi gas, one so cold that the indistinguishability of its atoms dominates its behaviour, was both more technically challenging and of greater practical importance than the earlier BEC. Electronics, the basis of most of modern technology, works with electrons, which are fermions—particles that obey the Pauli exclusion principle. Jin’s Fermi gases provide an atomic analogue to explore unanswered questions and persistent mysteries of electronic behaviour. Already, she has clarified the previously ill-understood process by which a Fermi gas transitions from a superfluid of loosely associated pairs of fermions to one of strongly bound molecules. She and the many researchers following in her footsteps continue to make new discoveries in a previously inaccessible frontier of physics. Among the questions that Jin’s work has placed within reach is the enduring puzzle of the origin of high-temperature superconductivity, the solution to which has the potential to revolutionize the transmission and use of electrical energy. Jin continues to break new ground, recently creating yet another novel quantum gas, of polar molecules. These interact in ways that shed new light on magnetic phenomena, just as her earlier work shed new light on superconductivity, and may lead to, among other things, transformational improvements in data storage.