David S. Weiss, Distinguished Professor of Physics at Penn State, has been honored with the Davisson-Germer Prize in Atomic or Surface Physics by the American Physical Society (APS). The prize, which recognizes outstanding work in atomic physics or surface physics, was established in 1965 by AT&T Bell Laboratories (now Bell Laboratories, Alcatel-Lucent Technologies), with additional support from the Chope Family Trust.
“I am, of course, very happy to have been recognized by the APS with this prize,” said Weiss. “It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of all the students and postdocs with whom I have collaborated.”
Weiss is being honored for “pioneering contributions to the experimental realization of strongly interacting one-dimensional Bose gases and groundbreaking studies of their quantum dynamics, and for contributions to quantum computing with neutral atoms in optical lattices.” He is the second Penn State physicist to receive the prize.
“Over half a century ago, Erwin Mueller placed Penn State on the international map by opening a new frontier, field ion microscopy, that enabled studies of matter with atomic resolution,” said Nitin Samarth, George A. and Margaret M. Downsbrough Department Head and Professor of Physics. “Mueller won the Davisson-Germer prize for that work and it is fitting that Dave Weiss is being recognized for his equally influential experiments with cold atom lattices that provide unprecedented insights into quantum matter at the atomic scale. This recognition comes at an important time for Penn State as we seek to expand our presence in the rapidly growing area of quantum information science and technology.”
Weiss has long worked to improve the techniques for cooling and trapping atoms using lasers, especially in optical lattices, which are periodic atom traps made from light. His research group has applied these extremely cold lattice-bound atoms to the study of a wide range of physics, including precision measurements, the fundamentals of statistical mechanics, and quantum information. In one set of experiments, they have created and studied one-dimensional gases, which have many special properties, including the ability to thwart the universal tendency of systems of interacting particles to thermalize. In another set of experiments, they have used cold trapped atoms to make precise measurements, with an eye towards testing fundamental symmetries of nature. Cold, trapped atoms are also of interest for the development of quantum computers, which Weiss’ group has demonstrated by creating three dimensional arrays of single atoms, where each atom can be made to act as a quantum bit (qubit).
Weiss was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) in 2007 and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2019. He was elected to serve a term as chair of the Division of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics (DAMOP) of the APS from 2015 to 2016. Weiss has won a Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal for Physical Science, a Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering, a Sloan Research Fellowship, and a Churchill Scholarship. He has had a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Award and was an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator.
Weiss earned a bachelor's degree in physics, summa cum laude, at Amherst College in 1985, and earned a doctoral degree in physics at Stanford University in 1993, where he was the first student to join the research group of Steven Chu, who went on to become a Nobel laureate and the Secretary of Energy. Weiss next used an NSF postdoctoral fellowship at l'Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France, where he worked with Serge Haroche, who also later won a Nobel prize. He returned to the U.S. to become an assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley. In 2001, he joined the faculty at Penn State as associate professor of physics, was promoted to professor in 2005, and was named a Distinguished Professor in 2020.