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Profiles in Science

Where are our scientists from? What sparked their interest in physics? Read about these topics in the selected profiles.

Phil Armitage was born in 1971 just outside of London in Sevenoaks, Kent, England. He was keen on astronomy early in life. As an elementary school student, he kept abreast of extensive press coverage of the Voyager I spacecraft’s flight past Jupiter and Saturn during 1979 and 1980.  To encourage his passion for astronomy, Armitage’s parents bought him a six-inch reflecting telescope. Unfortunately, he couldn’t see anything with it except the moon because the sky wasn’t very dark near London.

Physicist Andreas Becker joined the JILA faculty as an Associate Fellow in August of 2008. He became a Fellow in 2012. His specialty is ultrafast laser theory, a topic of interest to several JILA labs, including the Kapteyn/Murnane group. His wife, theorist Agnieszka Jaron-Becker, also arrived in 2008. She is an Associate Fellow of JILA. They are the proud parents of Anna Sophie, who has yet to decide whether she wants to be a physicist when she grows up.

Mitch Begelman decided he wanted to be an astrophysicist when he was five years old and living in the Bronx, New York, with his parents Irving and Barbara. In 1958, he saw a Walt Disney program about interplanetary space travel and immediately knew science was for him. To his delight, his parents gave him a small refracting telescope for his 6th birthday in March of 1959. He soon became an active amateur astronomer.

John Bohn grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, drawn to science by repeated viewings of Star Trek. He kept busy doing experiments in his basement chemistry lab, taking apart old radios, and playing Little League baseball. His fondest memory of Little League was the year he was one of the top batters in his league, an accomplishment he attributes to his team’s pitcher, who was the only one in the league who could throw a curve ball. He dreamed many nights of playing second base like his hero Joe Morgan.

Nobel Laureate Eric Cornell almost didn’t become a physicist. As a child in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he got interested in science early on, but he was curious about a lot of other things, too. He built model rockets and played around with electrical circuits, switches, and light bulbs. His father, Allin Cornell, a professor of civil engineering at MIT, fostered his love of science by teaching him scientific notation in the 4th grade and making sure his son got one of the early programmable calculators to play with.

Murray Holland was born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand. He wanted to be a scientist for as long as he can remember. Because his father was an electrical engineer, Holland was exposed to technical ideas from early childhood. He developed a special interest in physics when he was about 14 years old because of the influence of some excellent high school teachers.

Deborah Jin (1968–2016) was an atomic physicist at JILA, a joint institute of the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU, Boulder) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). She was a NIST Fellow in the Quantum Physics Division and an Adjoint Professor of Physics at CU, Boulder. In 2003, Jin received a MacArthur Fellowship (commonly known as the “genius grant”) from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In 2013, she was named the L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Laureate for North America.

Konrad Lehnert was born in Bogota, Colombia, where his father was managing a plant for the Phillips Petroleum Company. Lehnert moved with his family (including an older brother born in Cali, Colombia) back to the United States at age four. At the time, he was fluent in Spanish, but the language faded as he grew up in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, the world headquarters of the oil company.

Judah Levine was born and raised in New York City. Since most of his relatives were rabbis, his mother and her family really wanted him to be a rabbi, too. To prepare for this career, he played around with batteries and light bulbs as well as his erector and chemistry sets. “I discovered I had a natural aptitude for playing around,” Levine recalls.

Heather Lewandowski grew up in the small town of Laurium on the upper peninsula of Michigan, which extends into Lake Superior. She earned a B. S. in physics at nearby Michigan Tech in 1997.

I was born in Hamlet, North Carolina, on December 5, 1939. I was the only child of Caleb Henry and Evelyn Pelot Cooper Lineberger. My father worked for the then Seaboard Railroad (now part of CSX). My mother, after a period teaching elementary school, was a full-time mother and homemaker. My father was the first member of his family to earn a college degree (civil engineering, Clemson University, 1929 was a bad year to look for a job). My mother was among the first of her family to attend any college at all.

Award-winning physicist Margaret Murnane began her journey to becoming a world-renowned expert on ultrafast lasers in the countryside of Midwest Ireland. Her father, an elementary school teacher, loved science and used to reward his young daughter with chocolates or a new science book from the library when she solved math puzzles. When she was 8, one of those books, with an illustration of Archimedes in the bathtub, kindled a lifelong desire to learn about the world by observing it.

Dr. Tom O’Brian became the Chief of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST’s) Quantum Physics Division (QPD) in October of 2009. Fellow Adjoint O’Brian is also head the Time and Frequency Division at NIST-Boulder. O’Brian divides his time equally between the JILA and NIST campuses. He also travels back and forth to JILA or NIST as needed.

Cindy Regal arrived in early January of 2010. She is JILA’s newest Associate Fellow and a University of Colorado, Boulder Assistant Professor of Physics.  Her experimental physics labs have found a home on the second floor of JILA, and she teaches a variety of undergraduate courses in the physics department.

Three major research efforts are underway in the Regal lab. They are providing the group with advanced experimental capabilities in both cold atoms and nanomechanical systems.

Theorist Ana Maria Rey was appointed an Associate Fellow of JILA and Assistant Research Professor of Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 2008. Since then she has done research on mathematical models to describe how nature behaves — in all its amazing complexity. She specializes in the scientific interface between atomic, molecular, and optic physics, condensed matter, and quantum information science.

James K. Thompson was born to John and Noreen Thompson in Fort Worth, Texas, and moved to Orlando, Florida when he was seven years old. His father was a Baptist minister who had abandoned his study of mathematics, and his mother was an elementary school teacher. Together they fostered the sense that education and curiosity about the world were critical to being a complete and happy person. 

Mathias Weber has known he would become a scientist ever since he was five or six years old and living in Pirmasens, Germany. As a child, he read as much about science as he could. His specific interest in the field of chemistry began when he was about 13 years old. He had convinced his parents to let him set up a chemistry lab in one room in the family home. 

Jun Ye was born in Shanghai, China, in 1967. His father was a naval officer who later pursued a career in business. His mother was an environmental scientist and city official who controlled funding for environmental protection. While his parents were busy with their careers, Ye grew up in Shaoxing, a city about 200 km south of Shanghai. He was raised by his father’s mother, E-Gui Jin, who placed such a high value on education that he would dedicate his Ph.D. thesis to her in 1997.