2011 honorary alum: Lene Vestergaard Hau
In a number of much talked-about experiments, Lene Vestergaard Hau has succeeded in slowing down and later even stopping light particles altogether. Her research career has, however, not been characterised by slowness; in fact, since being awarded her PhD degree in solid-state physics from Aarhus University in 1991, it has been full steam ahead.
Today – 20 years on – she is highly respected in the international research community, has received numerous honorary awards and heads her own laboratory at Harvard University. And now she returns to Aarhus University to receive the title of 2011 honorary alum,
thus joining an exclusive clubs with members such as HRH Crown Prince Frederik, former prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Nils Smedegaard Andersen, CEO of Maersk.
Challenging the limits of quantum physics
Lene Vestergaard Hau was a PhD student at Aarhus University when she first became aware of the cold atoms which would later earn her worldwide reputation as the woman who stopped light. Back then, she spent a weekend deeply absorbed in the department library books and read, among other things, about how atoms can be chilled by exposing them to laser beams and made to behave totally out of the ordinary.
She decided there and then to continue working with cooling of atoms, which led her to Harvard where she and her team of researchers not only managed to slow down and later stop light; they also succeeded in transforming light to a solid state, moving it to another place and then transforming it to light again.
Lene Vestergaard Haus’s research is funded by, amongst others, NASA and the US Air Force, and the experiments may come to have a major impact on, e.g., the development of high-speed quantum computers.
Impressive track record
Lene Vestergaard Hau has won honourable prizes before at Aarhus University, as she was awarded the Rigmor og Carl Holst-Knudsens Videnskabspris science prize in 2008. In addition to that, she has received a large number of Danish and international honours. In 2001, she received both one of the highly sought-after MacArthur Grants and the Ole Rømer Medal, she has won the prestigious Ledlie Prize at Harvard University, and in 2010 she won the World Dane of the Year Award established by the association Danes Worldwide.
Born in 1959, Lene Vestergaard Hau today holds the position of Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard where she heads the so-called Hau Lab.