Public Release: 

Research probing a quantum phase transition wins the 2011 AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize, supported by Affymetrix

American Association for the Advancement of Science

A method to observe individual atoms in an ultra-cold gas as they transitioned from one quantum state to another won the 2011 Newcomb Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The Association's oldest prize, now supported by Affymetrix, the Newcomb Cleveland Prize annually recognizes the author or authors of an outstanding paper published in the Research Articles or Reports sections of the journal Science between June and the following May.

A Science paper by Waseem Bakr, Simon Fölling, Markus Greiner and colleagues will receive the AAAS prize for 2011. The research was originally published online by Science at the Science Express Web site on 17 June 2010.

The innovative method, which involves cold rubidium atoms moving in a lattice of light, provided an important boost for the engineering of artificial quantum materials and the simulation of solid state systems.

The physicists from Harvard University and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität observed a particular state of matter - the Mott Insulator - at a microscopic level with the use of an imaging technique called the Quantum Gas Microscope. They could also follow the material's formation from a superfluid state, and study how fast this transition occurs in time.

Waseem Bakr and colleagues developed a cloud of rubidium gas the shape of a pancake, and introduced it into a lattice of light in the laboratory. The researchers used a high-resolution system to observe individual rubidium atoms as the cold gas entered a phase transition and the atoms reorganized themselves. Then, they watched as the ultra-cold gas atoms changed from a superfluid state, which flows very easily, to the sluggish Mott-insulator state in which atoms are stuck at individual lattice sites. Such a phase change is similar to the transition of water to ice, except this transition was not driven by temperature; it was driven by the researchers' manipulations of the effective interaction between atoms.

Their observational system documented some of the microscopic details of this quantum phase transition and revealed that it happens surprisingly fast. The Mott-insulator state they identified should be a good starting point for quantum magnetism experiments and the measurement of local quantum dynamics, these researchers suggest.

"This important paper will have a significant impact on the fields of quantum gases and solid state physics," said Science Editor-in-Chief Bruce Alberts. "The innovative approach represents a noteworthy contribution to science."

The paper, "Probing the Superfluid to Mott Insulator Transition at the Single Atom Level," by W. S. Bakr, A. Peng, M. E. Tai, R. Ma, J. Simon, J. I. Gillen, S. Fölling, L. Pollet, and M. Greiner can be found online at (Please note that the article is free without charge, but initial registration is required.)

The prize was established in 1923 with funds donated by Newcomb Cleveland of New York City and was originally called the AAAS Thousand Dollar Prize. It is now known as the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize, and its value has been raised to $25,000. The winner also receives a bronze medal, complimentary registration and reimbursement for reasonable travel and hotel expenses to attend the AAAS Annual Meeting. Eligible Science papers include original research data, theory, or synthesis. They should represent a fundamental contribution to basic knowledge, or a technical achievement of far-reaching consequence. Winning nominations also should be a first-time publication of the author's own work.

The 2010-2011 Newcomb Cleveland Prize Selection Committee included Bruce Alberts, the Science Editor-in-Chief as well as Science Senior Editorial Board members Paul Alivisatos of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Cori Bargmann of Rockefeller University; Ernst Fehr of the University of Zürich; Richard Losick of Harvard University; and Michael S. Turner of the University of Chicago; Brooks Hanson, Science Deputy Editor, Physical Sciences; Andrew Sugden, Science Deputy Editor, Biological Sciences; Barbara Jasny, Science Deputy Editor, Commentary; and AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner, executive publisher of Science.

The Newcomb Cleveland Prize will be presented at the 178th AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, which will take place 16-20 February 2012. The awards ceremony and reception will be held in Ballroom B of the Vancouver Convention Centre, West Building, on Friday, 17 February, from 6:00 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.

CONTACTS: Markus Greiner can be reached at or through Steve Bradt at Harvard University at (617) 496-8070 or For general information on the AAAS Awards ceremony or other background, Senior Communications Officer Kat Zambon of AAAS can be reached at (202) 326-6434 or

About AAAS

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal Science as well as Science Translational Medicine and Science Signaling. AAAS was founded in 1848, and serves 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, reaching 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The non-profit AAAS is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!,, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.

About Affymetrix

Affymetrix, Inc. added its support to the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize in 2003, helping to more than double the prize's monetary value. Affymetrix Founder and Chairman Stephen P.A. Fodor, Ph.D., and his colleagues were awarded the Newcomb Cleveland Prize in 1991 for their landmark publication which first introduced microarray technology to the scientific community. ("Light-directed, spatially addressable parallel chemical synthesis," with co-authors J. Read, M.C. Pirrung, L. Stryer, A.Lu, and D. Solas, Science, 15 February 1991.)

"Receiving the Newcomb Cleveland Award in 1991 was the first important public acknowledgment of our invention," says Fodor. "Today, the award remains one of our most valued. Affymetrix is thrilled to support its continued legacy. It is important to recognize and encourage the innovative work of new scientists as their work will become the foundation for future research and discovery."


Affymetrix is a pioneer in creating breakthrough tools that are driving the genomic revolution. By applying the principles of semiconductor technology to the life sciences, Affymetrix develops and commercializes systems that enable scientists to improve quality of life. The Company's customers include pharmaceutical, biotechnology, agrichemical, diagnostics, and consumer products companies as well as academic, government, and other non-profit research institutes. Affymetrix offers an expanding portfolio of integrated products and services to address growing markets focused on understanding the relationship between genes and human health. Affymetrix has about 1,000 employees worldwide.

AAAS is the world's largest general scientific society, dedicated to "Advancing science ∙ Serving society."

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