The NYT had an obit the other day for Deborah S. Jin, who died way too young (47).
She was not someone I knew personally, or had ever met, but she sounds like an interesting person who I would have enjoyed talking to. She won a MacArthur fellowship in 2003; her specialty was ultra-low temperature physics. Ultra-low.
Dr. Cornell and Carl E. Wieman, then a physics professor at the University of Colorado, had recently succeeded in cooling a gas of rubidium atoms to less than one-millionth of a degree above absolute zero, at which matter comes to an almost complete stop. The individual atoms melded together, acting as a single coherent particle.
This is what is known as a Bose-Einstein condensate.
The rubidium atoms in Dr. Cornell and Dr. Wieman’s experiment acted like bosons — a fundamental class of particles named after Professor Bose — which cozy up to each other to form the condensate. Dr. Jin wanted to do a similar experiment with fermions, the other class of fundamental particles (named after the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi). Fermions, which are inherently antisocial, are loath to meld together like bosons, but they can pair up and, coupled together, act like bosons.
Dr. Jin succeeded in making what she called a fermionic condensate in 2004.
After creating fermionic condensate, Dr. Jin began collaborating with Jun Ye of JILA to move beyond atoms and study ultracold molecules. That involved cooling two types of atoms and then finding a way to bring them close enough to bond, without the atoms heating up from the energy of the collision.
Lasers and magnetic fields carefully braked and steered the atoms, siphoning off energy as they bound together into molecules. That achievement has opened up a new field of research into chemical reactions: Scientists can now start to study quantum effects that are obscured at higher temperatures.
Also among the dead: John D. Loudermilk, noted country singer and songwriter.