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Nobel Prize-winning duo offer public lectures at Otago


Monday 11 February 2013 3:25pm

Professor Roald HoffmanProfessor Roald Hoffman

The University of Otago has scored a rare coup in having two Nobel Laureates present public lectures in Dunedin on consecutive days this month.

Professor Roald Hoffman of Cornell University, USA, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1981 for his application of chemical bonding theories (he shared the prize with Japanese chemist Kenichi Fukui, who independently made the same discoveries in the same period).

His public lecture "All the ways to have a bond" takes place at the College Tower G07 Lecture Theatre, University of Otago, from 2pm-4pm, Wednesday 20 February.

Professor Bill Phillips is a leading researcher at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Maryland and the founder of the Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland. Together with colleagues Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and Steven Chu (who until recently was the US Secretary of Energy) he won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997 for work developing laser cooling to slow gaseous atoms, enabling closer study.

Professor Phillips will present, "Time, Einstein and the coolest stuff in the universe…" in the St David Lecture Theatre (corner of St David and Cumberland Streets), University of Otago at 5.30pm on Thursday 21 February.

University of Otago Chemistry Associate Professor Allan Blackman says Professor Hoffman's public talk will especially interest Chemistry teachers, higher level students at secondary schools and those with some science background who are interested in the way matter holds together.

"Professor Hoffman's Nobel Prize-winning work used the new computers of the time to develop and apply theories about chemical bonding based on quantum mechanics. He was among the first to apply computers to the problems that really were unsolvable without them."

Professor Hoffman's talents extend beyond Chemistry, also being a published poet, playwright and philosopher.

"He's a real communicator," says Associate Professor Allan Blackman. "He hosted a 26-part TV show 'The World of Chemistry' in the late 1980s. He is very focussed on demystifying chemistry and popularising science."

Professor Bill PhillipsProfessor Bill Phillips

Otago Physics Associate Professor Blair Blakie says Professor Phillips is equally passionate about making science accessible to the public.

"Bill is a larger than life character," Associate Professor Blakie describes. "In terms of being able to communicate, he is the best of his kind in Physics. In this public lecture his aim will be to reach the lay person. Anyone with a keen interest in science will enjoy it, too. He got his Nobel Prize for inventing a way to make the coldest things in the universe. There will be lots of demonstrations, lots of interaction - Bill is a joy to listen to and watch.

"Otago's Physics department has a strong connection with Bill through our internationally prominent work in the area of ultracold atoms. Otago Physics graduates have gone on to do post-doctoral work with Bill's groups, and people from his group have worked here."

Professor Phillips has come to the South Island to attend the University of Otago-hosted FINESS-2013 conference in Queenstown from 16-20 February. The conference is a biennial international physics conference attracting dozens of international experts working on the frontier areas of quantum physics and research with ultra-cold atoms.

Professor Phillips will also visit the University of Otago Department of Physics' Jack Dodd Centre for Quantum Technology.

For further information, contact:

Associate Professor P Blair Blakie
Department of Physics
Jack Dodd Centre for Quantum Technology
Ph 64 3 479 4114
Mob 021 279 4114

Associate Professor Allan Blackman
Department of Chemistry
Ph 64 3 479 7931
Mob 021 024 79945

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