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Nobel Prize for Scientists Creating New State of Matter - 2001-10-09

Two Americans and a German scientist have won the Nobel Prize in physics for creating a new state of matter. The discovery is expected to have important applications in building smaller and smarter machines.

The Nobel jury awarded this year's physics prize of nearly $1 million to three relatively young scientists. They are credited with achieving an advanced state of matter that promises to open up entirely new possibilities.

The winners are Eric Cornell, 39, and Carl Wieman, 50, of Boulder, Colorado, and Wolfgang Ketterle, 43, a German citizen living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mr. Cornell and Professor Wieman teach physics at the University of Colorado, while Professor Ketterle teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Swedish jury cited the three men for their discovery of what is known as the Bose-Einstein condensate, a new state of matter which, in the words of the judges, "is going to bring revolutionary applications in fields such as nanotechnology and precision measurement."

Nanotechnology is the branch of technology that deals with ultra-tiny devices that may only be the size of a few molecules. Experts say it holds the promise of creating everything from computers that rival the brain in their power, to molecule-sized motors and drugs that can target a single cell.

The theory that led to this discovery was developed in the 1920s by the Indian scientist S.N. Bose. He made important calculations about light particles, and extended them to atoms. He sent his work to the great physicist of his day, Albert Einstein, who realized its importance and followed up with further study that led to his prediction that if such atoms were cooled to an extremely low temperature, they would slow down and suddenly gather in the lowest possible energy state. That state is known as the Bose-Einstein condensate.

It was 70 years later that Professors Cornell and Wieman succeeded in achieving this extreme state of matter. Working independently, Professor Ketterle went a step further, using the ultra-cooled particles to produce what the Nobel judges described as a primitive laser beam using matter instead of light.

Scientists expect that the breakthroughs achieved by Professors Cornell, Wieman and Ketterle will eventually touch nearly every industry, from power to biotechnology, as well as computing and manufacturing.

The Physics Prize is the second in a week of announcements by the Nobel Foundation in the 100th year of its awards. An American and two Britons were given the Medicine prize Monday for discoveries of how cells divide, which is opening new possibilities for curing cancer.

Later in the week, prizes will also be given in chemistry, economics and literature, capped by Friday's announcement in Oslo, Norway, of the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.