US physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2001, shared with US physicist Eric A Cornell and German physicist Wolfgang Ketterle, for his study of Bose-Einstein condensation and his production of a Bose-Einstein condensate in a dilute gas of alkali-metal atoms.
Wieman and Cornell led the research team at the University of Colorado that in 1995 successfully created the world's first Bose-Einstein condensate of 2,000 rubidium atoms. Wieman had outlined the conditions necessary to achieve the condensate in 1990. He selected rubidium atoms to form the basis of his experiments because he correctly reasoned that the weak repulsive forces between this type of atom would prevent a collection of these atoms from solidifying, even at the extremely low temperatures necessary to form a Bose-Einstein condensate. He also specified that the dilute gas should be loosely held together in an atom trap and cooled using laser cooling and evaporation techniques.
Bose-Einstein condensates provide a unique opportunity to study fundamental quantum-mechanical systems and are expected to have applications in the development of new approaches to holography, lithography, and nanotechnology.
Wieman was born in Corvallis, Oregon. He received his PhD from Stanford University, California, in 1977 and was appointed assistant professor of physics at the University of Michigan in 1979. He held the same post at the University of Colorado 1984–1987. He became professor of physics at the University of Colorado in 1987 and was awarded the post of distinguished professor there in 1997. Wieman has been a fellow of JILA (formerly the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics) at the University of Colorado, Boulder, since 1985. He was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1995 and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Chicago in 1997. He directs the Science Education Initiative at the University of Colorado and the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia.