Boulder scientist hopes make an impact in science education |

Boulder scientist hopes make an impact in science education

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Boulder physicist John L. "Jan" Hall poses on Jan. 30, 2006, with his wife Lindy and the plaque he received when he accepted the Nobel Prize in physics from the king of Sweden in Decembr 2005. (AP Photo/The Daily Camera, Paul Aiken) ** MAGS OUT **

BOULDER ” John L. “Jan” Hall received the mother of all diplomas on Dec. 10 and is now embarking on what is known as “the Nobel year.”

Hall, 71, won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics, accepting his Nobel diploma and medal from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. Until the 2006 prizes are awarded in October, the winners go through life carrying a bit of a bullhorn. Hall hopes to use the opportunity to focus attention “in places where we’re doing well or not doing so well in science policy or education policy.”

Immigration policy is also an area of keen interest to Hall. Science is a global field, and he has worked with myriad graduate students and collaborators from overseas.

“It is those people, by and large, that have the energy and dedication, and I’m afraid with the restrictions in the number of visas for graduate students, we’re ensuring that we’re going to gradually get behind,” Hall said.

Hall is a National Institute of Standards and Technology scientist emeritus and fellow of JILA, the joint University of Colorado-NIST laboratory on the CU campus. He has been on the leading edge of laser physics for 45 years. He once tuned a laser precisely enough to remove the ink off a dollar bill, leaving the paper unscathed.

The 2005 Nobel Prize in physics was shared three ways. Roy J. Glauber of Harvard University received half the award for his work on the theory of quantum optics. Hall and German physicist Theodor W. Haensch, 63, shared the other half, “for their contributions to the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy, including the optical frequency-comb technique,” according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Hall’s wife, Lindy, described the Nobel Prize announcement as being “like a meteorite fell in your front yard.

“We had no chance to think about this,” she said. “It was just foreign to our experience.”

She sat next to the king at an intimate dinner at the Swedish royal palace, nearly bumping heads with royalty when something fell to the floor between them. Across the table, Jan Hall sat beside the queen.

“The dialogue between the king and queen is just the same as in any kind of family where the man sort of thinks he can do things in carpentry,” Hall said in a recent interview, during which he and his wife extolled the Swedish royal family’s personal qualities and hospitality.

There were 660 people at the dinner. The Nobel banquet seated about 1,300.

It was a whirlwind time for the Halls, with a schedule so packed they scarcely had time to see their families and friends who flew to Sweden for the occasion. They were whisked about Stockholm in a Volvo limousine “so big it wouldn’t fit in one picture,” complete with police escort, Lindy Hall said.

Their driver was the same woman who transported NIST senior scientist Eric Cornell about town in 2001, when Cornell and CU’s Carl Wieman shared the Nobel Prize in physics.

Cornell said in a recent interview that he remembered his Nobel year fondly but wouldn’t necessarily want to repeat it.

“I had this impression that it was kind of like my Miss America year,” Cornell said. “Come around next October, I can take off my crown with tears streaming down my face and pass it to the next winner.”

Cornell said he accepted 20 out-of-town invitations in 2002. The Halls are grappling with a flood of requests.

“The stack of invitations is getting higher and higher in e-mail and on our desks,” Lindy Hall said.

Jan Hall said they were considering local and other requests carefully, hoping to make an impact in science education by doing things like judging science fairs and speaking to students.

Hall is finishing a narrative version of his Nobel lecture: a discourse spanning cave paintings and femtosecond lasers that emit infinitesimally short pulses.

And he continues to work in his JILA laboratory and as a consultant.

“I had my soldering iron hot a few days ago,” he said.

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