Mark G Raizen
Sid W. Richardson Foundation Regents Chair in Physics #2, Department of Physics, College of Natural Sciences
Phone: +1 512 471 4753, +1 512 471 0883
When I was a child growing up in New York, I thought that I would become a medical doctor, following a long tradition in my family. At the age of ten, I visited my uncle's lab at NIH in Bethesda, Maryland, and decided that I wanted to do the same thing. My uncle was a medical doctor by training, but chose a research career as a biochemist. That day, I realized that I wanted to be a scientist. In fact, I took the long and twisted road to being a physicist. In high school, physics was my worst subject, and I got a C in the class. I now realize it was because I was too curious, my teacher resented my constant questions, and wanted me to just memorize the book. I then turned to mathematics, where I could understand everything. My undergraduate degree is in that field. I always felt myself drawn to physics, and decided to pursue a graduate degree. My research began in theoretical physics, but then I became an experimentalist. I finally found my true calling as a research physicist and professor where I can combine theory with experiment. I have been directing a research group at UT Austin for almost 20 years.
In the past few years, we have developed general methods to control the motion of atoms and molecules. This work will be used to test very basic questions in physics, and will also find real-life applications. I have always loved history, and am inspired by challenges of great scientists from the past. Our method for cooling atoms realizes a famous thought experiment known as Maxwell's Demon, proposed by James Clerk Maxwell in 1871. Although Maxwell proposed this idea, he then noted that it was "impossible to us." In another recent experiment, we measured for the first time the instantaneous velocity of a Brownian particle (a bead of glass). Our data was used to test the equipartition theorem for a Brownian particle, one of the basic tenets of statistical mechanics. This work follows a prediction by Albert Einstein from 1907, although he said the experiment is impossible!
I wish that I could meet my high school teacher now; I am sure he would be surprised.