Physics professor receives Davisson-Germer Prize for atomic or surface physics


David S. Weiss, distinguished physics professor at Penn State University, was awarded the American Physical Society (APS) the Davisson-Germer Prize for atomic or surface physics. The award, which recognizes outstanding work in atomic or surface physics, was launched in 1965 by AT&T Bell Laboratories (now Bell Laboratories, Alcatel-Lucent Technologies) with additional support from the Chope Family Trust.

PICTURE: Nate Follmer, Penn State

“I am of course very happy to have been awarded this prize by the APS,” said Weiss. “It’s a testament to the hard work and dedication of all the students and postdocs I’ve worked with.”

Weiss is honored for “groundbreaking contributions to the experimental realization of strongly interacting one-dimensional Bose gases and groundbreaking studies of their quantum dynamics as well as for contributions to quantum computing with neutral atoms in optical lattices”. He is the second Penn State physicist to receive the award.

“More than half a century ago, Erwin Mueller put Penn State on the international map by opening a new frontier with field ion microscopy, which made it possible to study matter with atomic resolution,” says Nitin Samarth, George A. and Margaret M. Downsbrough Department Head and Professor of Physics. “Mueller won the Davisson-Germer Prize for this work, and it is fitting that Dave Weiss is being recognized for his equally influential experiments with cold atomic lattices, which provide unprecedented insights into quantum matter on the atomic scale. This recognition comes at an important time for Penn State as we seek to expand our presence in the rapidly growing field of quantum information science and technology. ”

Weiss has long worked to improve the techniques for cooling and trapping atoms with lasers, particularly in optical lattices, which are periodic atom traps made from light. His research group has applied these extremely cold lattice-bound atoms to the study of a variety of physics, including precision measurements, the basics of statistical mechanics, and quantum information. In a series of experiments, they have created and studied one-dimensional gases that have many unique properties, including the ability to thwart the universal tendency of systems of interacting particles to thermalize. In another set of experiments, they used cooled atoms to make precise measurements to test basic symmetries in nature. Cold, trapped atoms are also of interest for the development of quantum computers, as demonstrated by the Weiss group by creating three-dimensional arrangements of individual atoms, where each atom can be made to function as a quantum bit (qubit).

Weiss was made a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) in 2007 and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2019. He became chairman of the Division of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics of. elected the APS from 2015 to 2016. Weiss has won a Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal for Physical Science, a Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering, a Sloan Research Fellowship, and a Churchill Fellowship. He received an Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and was a Young Investigator for the Office of Naval Research.

Weiss earned a bachelor’s degree in physics with summa cum laude from Amherst College in 1985 and a PhD in physics from Stanford University in 1993, where he was the first student to join Steven Chu’s research group to become a Nobel Prize Winner and Minister of Energy. Weiss next took advantage of an NSF postdoctoral fellowship at l’Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France, where he worked with Serge Haroche, who later also received a Nobel Prize. He returned to the United States to become an assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley. In 2001 he joined the faculty of Penn State University as an adjunct professor of physics, was promoted to professor in 2005 and was named distinguished professor in 2020.


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