Randy Hulet elected fellow of the Optical Society

Rice physicist recognized for pioneering work with ultracold atomic gases

Randy Hulet, Rice’s Fayez Sarofim Professor of Physics and Astronomy, has been elected a fellow of the Optical Society, the leading U.S.-based professional society dedicated to advancing the study of light in both theory and application.

Hulet is one of 101 newly elected 2018 fellows announced by the society this month. He was honored “for pioneering achievements in the field of ultracold atomic gases, including the achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation with attractive interactions and groundbreaking studies of atomic fermions.”

Randy Hulet

Randy Hulet

Being elected a fellow is one of the society’s most prestigious honors. The number of newly elected fellows each year is limited to about 0.5 percent of the society’s membership.

Hulet, who joined Rice’s faculty in 1987, uses lasers to both trap and cool clouds of lithium gas to less than a millionth of a degree above absolute zero — a temperature far colder than anything found in nature. At such extreme temperatures, the behavior of matter is dictated by the laws of quantum mechanics. For example, in 1995, Hulet’s group was among the first to make a Bose-Einstein condensate, a cloud of thousands of atoms that march in lockstep as if they are a single entity, or “matter wave.”

In an April study in Science, Hulet’s team showed that matter-wave solitons — a specific type of Bose-Einstein condensate — could provide clues about the underlying physics of the creation of oceanic rogue waves, 100-foot walls of water that can threaten even the largest ships. In 2014 his group reported a quantum disappearing act when it showed that two solitons seemed to wink out of existence briefly rather than share space as they passed through one each other. And in 2015, Hulet’s lab finished a six year quest to use ultracold atoms as stand-ins for electrons to simulate the magnetic behavior of high-temperature superconductors. The lab is working to cool its condensates even more — to billionths of a degree above absolute zero — to further probe the mysteries of high-temperature superconductors.

Hulet’s prior awards and honors include the American Physical Society’s I.I. Rabi Prize and Davisson-Germer Prize in Atomic Physics, the Herbert Walther Award, which is awarded jointly by the Optical Society and the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft, and the National Science Foundation’s Presidential Young Investigators Award. Hulet is also a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Founded in 1916, the Optical Society has more than 20,000 members from over 100 countries and is dedicated to both promoting the generation, application and archiving of knowledge in optics and photonics and to disseminating that knowledge worldwide.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.