FRIB hosts Nobel Prize-winning physicist for talk on modern metric system

23 April 2024

FRIB is hosting William Phillips, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, for a special talk titled “The Quantum Reform of the Modern Metric System.” The talk, part of FRIB’s Advanced Studies Gateway initiative, will take place 1 p.m. on Sunday, 5 May, via Zoom. Those interested in attending the free public event can register online.

Phillips’ presentation will discuss reforms being made to the metric system based on quantum concepts.

William D. Phillips received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Juniata College in 1970, and a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1976. After two years as a Chaim Weizmann postdoctoral fellow at MIT, he joined the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)—then known as the National Bureau of Standards—to work on precision electrical measurements and fundamental constants. There, he initiated a new research program to cool atomic gases with laser light. He founded NIST’s Laser Cooling and Trapping Group, and later was a founding member of the Joint Quantum Institute, a cooperative research organization of NIST and the University of Maryland that is devoted to the study of quantum coherent phenomena. 

Phillips’ research group has been responsible for developing some of the main techniques now used for laser-cooling and cold-atom experiments in laboratories around the world. Their achievements include the first electromagnetic trapping of neutral atoms; reaching unexpectedly low laser-cooling temperatures, within a millionth of a degree of Absolute Zero; the confinement of atoms in optical lattices; and coherent atom-optical manipulation of atomic-gas Bose-Einstein condensates. Atomic fountain clocks, based on the work of this group, are now the primary standards for world timekeeping and lattice-trapped atoms are among the likely candidates for future primary frequency standards. Among the group’s current research directions are the use of ultra-cold atoms for quantum information processing and quantum simulation of important physical problems.

Phillips is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a Fellow and Honorary Member of OPTICA (formerly the Optical Society), a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and a corresponding member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences. In 1997, Phillips shared the Nobel Prize in Physics "for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light."

The Advanced Studies Gateway is an initiative at FRIB that brings together researchers, innovators, creative thinkers, artists, and performers from all fields and strengthens ties between Michigan State University and the community. Activities include research workshops as well as public talks, concerts, and special events that are free and open to the public. 

For information about accessible accommodations and the Advanced Studies Gateway at FRIB and, visit

Michigan State University operates FRIB as a user facility for the DOE Office of Science (DOE-SC), supporting the mission of the DOE-SC Office of Nuclear Physics. Hosting what is designed to be the most powerful heavy-ion accelerator, FRIB enables scientists to make discoveries about the properties of rare isotopes (that is, short-lived nuclei not normally found on Earth), nuclear astrophysics, fundamental interactions, and applications for society, including in medicine, homeland security, and industry.