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Deborah Jin Dies at 47

Published: 09-19-2016
Source: JILA Scientific Communications

Deborah Jin (1968–2016)

Note: Please read some remembrances here.


Deborah Jin passed away September 15, 2016, after a courageous battle with cancer. She was 47. Jin was an internationally renowned physicist and Fellow with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST); Professor Adjunct in the Department of Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder, and a Fellow of JILA, a joint institute of NIST and the University of Colorado.

A bright light at JILA has gone dim much too soon. For more than two decades, Deborah Jin was a friend and mentor to her JILA colleagues, young scientists in training, and JILA staff members. She was a role model and inspiration for women scientists, and hopefully the future will bring more women like her into science. JILA is grieving her loss.

“Debbie was an incredible scientist, outstanding mentor, valued friend, and loving spouse and mother,” said Tom O’Brian, Quantum Physics Division Chief at JILA.  “Her passing leaves a void at JILA, in the world-wide scientific community, and in the hearts of her family and friends that cannot be filled. Our deepest sympathies and thoughts are with Debbie’s family, and her friends and colleagues at JILA and across the world.”

Jin had many accomplishments and received much recognition for her work during an unusually productive career. She was a pioneer in polar molecule quantum chemistry. From 1995–1997, she worked with Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman at JILA on some of the earliest studies of dilute gas Bose-Einstein condensates, which form when particles known as bosons are cooled to just a few millionths of a degree above absolute zero (-459.67 °F).  Since then she had continued to explore the physics of atomic gases at ultracold temperatures and investigates the link between superconductivity and Bose-Einstein condensation

Jin subsequently developed innovative technical systems to study the behavior of ultracold Fermi gases, whose atoms are particles known as fermions and can form a superfluid or Bose condensate, if they become correlated atom pairs. In 2003, her group made the first ultracold fermionic condensate, a new form of matter. Since 2004, her group has conducted detailed studies of the behavior of Fermi gases in the regime of strong interactions, or correlations.

In 2008, Jin collaborated with Fellow Jun Ye at JILA to create the first ultracold gas of polar molecules in the quantum regime. Using these ground-state potassium-rubidium (KRb) molecules, Jin and Ye began exploring ultracold chemistry in 2009. The team went on to use ultracold KRb molecules in a quantum simulator to investigate quantum behaviors.

"Debbie has forever changed my life with her friendship and scientific mind, and I am only one of many who were touched by her,” said Jun Ye.   “No words can describe the deepest sense of void left by Debbie's passing.  She was the best friend, the best colleague, and the best critic, all in one."

Dana Anderson, Chair of the JILA Institute, added "As a scholar and educator Debbie leaves behind an indelible legacy of achievement at the University."

In 2003, Jin received a MacArthur Fellowship (commonly known as a “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.  Her other prestigious awards include a 2002 Maria Goeppert Mayer Award, a 2004 Scientific American “Research Leader of the Year," a 2008 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics, a 2014 Institute of Physics Isaac Newton Medal, and the 2014 Comstock Prize in Physics. At the time of her election in 2005 and for several years afterward, Jin was the youngest member of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Deborah Jin was the definition of world-class faculty,” said CU Boulder Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano. "The international scientific community has lost a giant, and our campus has lost a mentor to young scientists and an inspiration to female scientists. She will be deeply missed in many quarters. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family."

Jin earned an A.B. in physics from Princeton in 1990 and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago in 1995. From 1995 to 1997, she was a National Research Council research associate at JILA, where she was hired in 1997 as a NIST physicist and assistant professor adjoint at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Deborah Jin is survived by her husband, JILA Fellow John Bohn, their daughter Jackie Bohn, siblings Laural Jin O’Dowd and Craig Jin, and mother Shirley Jin.

Crist Mortuary is coordinating services for Debbie Jin. Information is available on the Crist website. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Debbie's name to either the Foundation for Women's Cancer or the World Wildlife Fund.

To share your remembrances or thoughts about Debbie Jin, please feel free to post them here.

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