William Daniel Phillips is a scientist from the United States who shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997. He is a laser cooling expert who has also invented atom trapping techniques. He was born in Pennsylvania to parents who valued education and reading, and he was encouraged to explore his scientific interests from an early age. While neither of his parents, who were both social workers, had any particular interest in science, they recognized and encouraged their son’s enthusiasm for the subject. He even had a laboratory in his basement where he conducted experiments, some of which were possibly deadly. He received his bachelor’s degree from Juniata College and went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to pursue his doctorate. With a thesis on the magnetic moment of the proton in H2O, he obtained his PhD. He then joined the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology), where he began the research that led to his Nobel Prize. He drew on Steven Chu’s work to provide new and improved methods for detecting the temperature of laser-cooled atoms, and he cooperated with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji on more advanced work on the subject.
Childhood and Adolescence
William Daniel Phillips was one of three children born to William Cornelius Phillips and Mary Catherine Savino on November 5, 1948. On his mother’s side, he is Italian, and on his father’s side, he is Welsh. His parents were both licensed social workers.
His parents encouraged him to pursue education because he was interested in science when he was a child. They bought him chemistry equipment and allowed him to conduct experiments in a lab he built in their basement. He enjoyed pastimes such as fishing, baseball, biking, and tree climbing in addition to science.
He finished high school as valedictorian of his class and went on to Juniata College to further his education. His academic years were intriguing, and he did some real physics research under the direction of Wilfred Norris, the chairman of the Physics Department. He rebuilt an X-band electron spin resonance (ESR) spectrometer and attempted to reconcile ESR linewidth differences in the literature. In 1970, he earned his bachelor’s degree.
For his doctorate, he went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he measured the magnetic moment of the proton in H2O as part of his thesis research. He accepted a Chaim Weizmann grant to work on issues of his choice at MIT for another two years after finishing his Ph.D. in 1976.
William Daniel’s Career
In 1978, he joined the National Bureau of Standards in Gaithersburg (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology). He worked in Barry Taylor’s section, contributing to precision measurements of the proton gyromagnetic ratio and the Absolute Ampere alongside people like Ed Williams and Tom Olsen.
Phillips was fascinated by these efforts, but his primary passion was lasers and atomic physics. He devoted some of his effort to these sectors and worked with fresh approaches for improving laser cooling measuring capabilities.
By that time, scientist Steven Chu had previously done atomic physics research by developing laser cooling techniques and magneto-optical atom trapping with lasers. Phillips expanded on Chu’s work, creating new ways of detecting the temperature of laser-cooled atoms.
Phillips continued his investigation and discovered that the atoms achieved a temperature six times lower than the theoretical limit in 1988. Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, a French physicist, gave an improved hypothesis to explain the new findings and collaborated with Phillips to further investigate techniques of trapping atoms cooled to even lower temperatures.
Phillips also works as a physics professor at the University of Maryland’s College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences in College Park. He also serves on the Advisory Board of the USA Science and Engineering Festival.
His Major Projects
William Daniel Phillips is most known for his laser cooling research, in which he devised ways for cooling atomic and molecular samples to near absolute zero using one or more laser fields. The Bose-Einstein condensate was initially observed in 1995, thanks to his collaboration with Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and Steven Chu.
He invented the Zeeman slower, a quantum optics device that cools a beam of atoms from room temperature or higher to a few kelvins.
Achievements and Awards
The Franklin Institute awarded Phillips the Albert A. Michelson Medal in 1996.
In 1997, the Nobel Prize in Physics was shared by William D. Phillips, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, and Steven Chu for “developing methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.”
Personal History and Legacy
He met Jane Van Wynen in high school and dated her for a few years before marrying her in 1970. They have two daughters together.
He is a devout Christian and one of the founding members of the International Society for Science and Religion.
Estimated Net worth
William Daniel Phillips is estimated to have a net worth of $3 million dollars. His major work as a scientist has made him extremely wealthy.