Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day - Professor Lene Hau

Today is Ada Lovelace day, a day dedicated to blogging to draw attention to the achievements of women in technology and science.

In the spirit of this day, I'd like to blog a bit about someone who is probably the most prominent Danish scientist at the moment, professor Lene Vestergaard Hau. She is the scientist who lead the team that in 1999 managed to slow down light to 17 meters per second (for you Americans, that's 38 miles per hour), and who two years later lead the team which managed to stop light, and restart it again. I repeat, they managed to freaking stop light and restart it.

How cool is that?

These things are only possible under very specific conditions, and is not something with an obvious daily use - still a lot of people see a lot of potential in this research, and hope that great things will come out of it. As a matter of fact, the US Department of Defense seems among those, as they have named professor Hau among the 11 people in the 2010 class of its National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship Program.

What's really fascinating about professor Hau is the fact that she is a theoretical physicist by training, but went into this research because it seemed more interesting, and by doing that, she pretty much turned our understanding of light upside-down.

Occasionally one comes across a neanderthal who claims that women can't grok math, and definitely can't grok physics. Had female physics in the past not already put an lie to that stupid claim, professor Hau would certainly do so.

It is of course hard to predict such things, but I think that it's very likely that professor Hau is a future recipient of the Nobel prize.

For more reading:
Scientific American has a portrait of professor Hau

The Boston Globe has a Q & A with her, where they touches the subject of women in physics.

For more about her research, see the website of her lab at Harvard.

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