Nobel physics winner has strong connection to university

Chuck Painter Haensch

2005 Nobel Prize-winner Theodor Haensch, left, spent 16 years at the Farm. He’s shown above with Arthur Schawlow, a Stanford professor who won a Nobel Prize in physics in 1981. Schawlow died in 1999.

One of the three Nobel Prize winners in physics announced Tuesday has a long connection to the Farm. Theodor W. Haensch spent 16 years at Stanford, starting as a NATO postdoctoral fellow and visiting scholar from 1970 to 1972 in the lab of the late Professor Arthur L. Schawlow, who himself shared a Nobel Prize in physics in 1981 with Harvard's Nicolaas Bloembergen for contributions to laser spectroscopy. Haensch's early work includes creating the first pulsed dye laser that was both widely tunable in wavelength, or color, and at the same time highly monochromatic, or narrowband. This device led to the most accurate determination of fundamental properties of the hydrogen atom. He also co-invented the commonly used technique of Doppler-free spectroscopy and first proposed laser cooling of atomic gases.

"I am so delighted to learn that Ted Haensch has won this year's Nobel Prize based on work which had its roots in the 16 years he spent at Stanford," said Richard N. Zare, the Marguerite Blake Wilbur Professor in Natural Science.

While at Stanford, Haensch was an associate professor from 1972 to 1975 and professor from 1975 to 1986. He was also thesis adviser to one of the 2001 Nobel physics winners, Carl E. Wieman, who shared his prize with Wolfgang Ketterle of MIT and Eric A. Cornell of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Colorado-Boulder, who received his bachelor's degree in physics from Stanford in 1985. Haensch, author of more than 460 papers and holder of about 20 patents, returned to his native Germany in 1986 to direct the Max-Planck-Institut für Quantenoptik and become a professor at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität.

He will share half the prize with John L. Hall of the University of Colorado, JILA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo., "for their contributions to the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, including the optical frequency comb technique." This development allows the determination of the color of the light of atoms and molecules with extreme precision. Hall and Haensch's contributions have made it possible to measure frequencies with an accuracy of 15 digits. Lasers with extremely sharp colors can now be constructed, and with the frequency comb technique precise readings can be made of light of all colors. This technique makes it possible to carry out studies of, for example, the stability of the constants of nature over time and to develop extremely accurate clocks and improved global positioning system (GPS) technology.

The other half of this year's physics prize went to Roy J. Glauber of Harvard "for his contribution to the quantum theory of optical coherence." This work provides a theoretical description of the behavior of light particles.