WMU News

Visiting physicist discusses fifth state of matter

Oct. 6, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- It is commonly accepted that matter comes in four states--gas, solid, liquid and plasma--but an atomic physicist coming to Western Michigan University will explore a recently developed fifth state of matter.

Dr. Michael S. Pindzola, professor of physics at Auburn University, will be on campus Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 23 and 24, as part of WMU's Visiting Scholars and Artists Program.

Pindzola will spend two days on campus, meeting with faculty and students to discuss quantum dynamics and atomic processes in plasma. He will give a free public lecture on "Fluids in Motion: From Aerodynamics to Quantum Dynamics" at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 24, in Room 1104 of Rood Hall.

Pindzola, a specialist in atomic processes relevant to controlled fusion, plans to discuss new advances in atomic theory, with examples from proton-atom collisions and Bose-Einstein condensation. Bose-Einstein condensation occurs when matter is cooled to a billionth of a degree above absolute zero, allowing millions of atoms to be condensed into one state. Proposed in theory nearly 80 years ago, the ability to produce the condensates has evolved only in the last six years and the resulting state is often referred to as the 'fifth' state of matter.

"Such technology may be used in future quantum computers," Pindzola explains. "There's a good chance that the physicists that developed it will win the Nobel Prize."

According to Dr. Tom Gorczyca, WMU associate professor of physics who is coordinating Pindzola's visit, Bose-Einstein condensation is a hot topic in atomic physics and the potential uses for it are wide open.

"We know the potential condensates have for lasers and to create a more accurate atomic clock," Gorczyca says, "but there is certain to be so much more we can do with this technique and knowledge. Research often predates commercial applications by many years."

Pindzola has served as a consultant at national laboratories in the United States and abroad, and has received numerous Department of Energy and National Science Foundation grants to conduct atomic physics research. He earned his doctoral degree at the University of Virginia and conducted post-doctoral research at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

In addition to his public lecture, Pindzola will meet with faculty and students during his visit. He will present a physics colloquium for faculty and students on "Time-Dependent Dynamics of Atomic Systems" at 4 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 23, in Room 1110 of Rood Hall.

His visit is sponsored by WMU's Department of Physics. For more information, contact Gorczyca at (616) 387-4913.

The Visiting Scholars and Artists Program was established in 1960 and has supported more than 500 visits by scholars and artists representing more than 65 academic disciplines. The chairperson of the committee who oversees the program is Dr. James M. Hillenbrand, professor of speech pathology and audiology.

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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