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April 1: An Algerian Jewish Nobelist

March 31, 2015

Prof Claude CohenClaude Cohen-Tannoudji, who in 1997 became the first physics Nobel laureate from an Arab country, was born in Constantine, Algeria on this date in 1933. (“My family,” he notes, “originally from Tangier, settled in Tunisia and then in Algeria in the 16th century after having fled Spain during the Inquisition. In fact, our name, Cohen-Tannoudji, means simply the Cohen family from Tangiers.”) Cohen-Tannoudi, as a quantum physicist in Paris, developed methods using laser light to cool helium gas to a millionth of a degree away from absolute zero, which enables scientists to study the gas’ cooled, slowed atoms with great accuracy. Another scientist, Lev Davidovich Landau of the USSR, who received a 1962 Nobel Prize in physics for related work on the peculiar superfluid behaviour of liquid helium at very low temperature, passed away on this date in 1968. To see Cohen-Tannoudji musing about science, young people, and other matters, look below.

“The methods may lead to the design of more precise atomic clocks for use in... space navigation and accurate determination of position. A start has also been made on the design of atomic interferometers with which, e.g., very precise measurements of gravitational forces can be made, and atomic lasers, which may be used in the future to manufacture very small electronic components.” —Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences