Deborah Jin and Xiaowei Zhuang win MacArthur awards

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation October 5 named 24 new MacArthur Fellows for 2003, including Deborah Jin and Xiaowei Zhuang Each will receive $500,000 in "no strings attached" support over the next five years. Deborah Jin and Xiaowei Zhuang . Deborah Jin is a physicist who uses recent advances in atomic cooling to study the behavior of atoms near absolute zero. As a postdoctoral fellow, Jin participated in early demonstrations of Bose-Einstein condensation - a process in which a small number of atoms become so cold that they collapse into a single quantum state, effectively becoming a giant atom. More recently, Jin has led efforts to apply laser cooling and magnetic trapping techniques to explore the properties of super-cooled fermions, which cannot form Bose-Einstein condensates due to quantum mechanical constraints; attempting to force fermions to a minimal temperature results in a set of atoms in a stack of quantized energy states. Jin made early and critical advances toward reliable experimental production of this minimum temperature state - the degenerate fermi gas. This protocol has importance beyond experimental novelty; in theory, fermions at the higher energy states of a degenerate gas should form Cooper pairs, as electrons do in superconductive materials. The phenomenon has not yet been demonstrated in the laboratory, but doing so will represent an important advance in condensed matter physics. Through a combination of strong theoretical background and remarkable experimental innovation, Jin has provided the field the first giant step towards reaching this milestone. Deborah Jin received an A.B. (1990) from Princeton University and a Ph.D. (1995) from the University of Chicago. She was a research associate with the National Institute of Standards (NIST) and Technology from 1995-1997. Since 1997, Jin has held the positions of NIST Physicist, Fellow of JILA and Assistant Professor Adjoint with the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Xiaowei Zhuang is a young biophysicist who uses optical spectroscopic methods to reveal the behavior of individual molecules. Originally trained in polymer physics, Zhuang made several widely cited contributions to understanding the basic principles of liquid crystal behavior, findings that have direct application to the design of computer displays. She changed her research focus after graduate school to the study of protein folding and enzyme catalysis. Scientists typically study these processes by measuring bulk samples; Zhuang has demonstrated the use of fluorescent labeling techniques to monitor them within single molecules. Her studies verify that a given molecule can take more than one path during folding or catalysis - sometimes measurements from bulk samples mask the less commonly used alternative paths. She also observed that, in reversible processes, individual molecules seem to "remember" their preferred path. Recently, Zhuang has applied single molecule methodology to explore the mechanism of viral membrane fusion with host cells. Understanding this process and its variations at the individual molecule level will provide critical insights into the basic biology of infection and may help to identify possible targets for therapeutic intervention in diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis.

Xiaowei Zhuang received a B.S. (1991) from the University of Science and Technology of China and an M.S. (1993) and Ph.D. (1996) from the University of California, Berkeley. She was a postdoctoral fellow (1997-2001) in the Department of Physics at Stanford. Since 2001, she has been Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Physics at Harvard University.

The MacArthur Fellows Program is designed to emphasize the importance of the creative individual in society. Fellows are selected for the originality and creativity of their work and the potential to do more in the future. Candidates are nominated, evaluated, and selected through a rigorous and confidential process. No one may apply for the awards, nor are any interviews conducted with nominees.

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