Nobel Laureate William Daniel Phillips to give 2014 RIT commencement address

Physics professor, government researcher shared 1997 prize for work on laser cooling of atoms

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William Daniel Phillips

William Daniel Phillips, an award-winning researcher with the National Institute of Standards and Technology who shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics, will be the keynote speaker for Rochester Institute of Technology’s 129th commencement celebration.

Phillips will speak at the Academic Convocation, set for 10 a.m. May 23 in the Gordon Field House and Activities Center.

RIT President Bill Destler said the university is honored to have a scientist of Phillips’ caliber addressing its graduates.

“Beyond Dr. Phillips’ most impressive list of achievements, I believe our graduates will find his record of innovation and leadership in scientific research to be an inspiration,” Destler said. “We look forward to hosting him on campus for our commencement celebration.”

Phillips, a native of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., received a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from Juniata College in 1970 and a Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976. After two years as a Chaim Weizmann postdoctoral fellow at MIT, he joined the staff of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (then the National Bureau of Standards) in 1978.

He is currently leader of the Laser Cooling and Trapping Group in the Quantum Measurement Division of NIST’s Physical Measurement Laboratory, and a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland. He is a Fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute, a cooperative research organization of NIST and the University of Maryland that is devoted to the study of quantum coherent phenomena. At the JQI, he is the co-director of an NSF-funded Physics Frontier Center focusing on quantum phenomena that span different subfields of physics.

The research group he leads at NIST has been responsible for developing some of the main techniques now used for laser-cooling and cold-atom experiments in laboratories around the world, including the deceleration of atomic beams, magnetic trapping of atoms, the storage and manipulation of cold atoms with optical lattices, and the coherent manipulation of Bose-Einstein condensates.

Phillips is a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow and honorary member of the Optical Society of America, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. He is the recipient of the Gold Medal of the U.S. Department of Commerce (1993), the Michelson Medal of the Franklin Institute (1996), the Schawlow Prize of the American Physical Society (1998), and the Service to America Medal, Career Achievement Award 2006. In 1997, Phillips shared the Nobel Prize in physics “for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.”

At the Academic Convocation, Destler will confer degrees upon some 3,500 undergraduate and graduate students. The event kicks off RIT’s two-day commencement celebration. For more information, go to


William Daniel Phillips