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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New State of Matter Earns Nobel Prize

STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- Two Americans and a German scientist shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday for achieving a new state of matter: an ultra-cold gas that could aid in developing super-small machines.

Eric Cornell, 39, of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado; Carl Wieman, 50, of the University of Colorado; and Wolfgang Ketterle, 43, a German based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will share the 10 million kronor ($943,000) prize.

Cornell and Wieman led JILA, a joint research institute for NIST and the University of Colorado, while Ketterle worked independently in Germany before he arrived at MIT in 1990. The researchers were cited for "the achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali atoms and for early fundamental studies of the properties of the condensates."

Their discovery of the new state of matter that causes atoms to "sing in unison," is "going to bring revolutionary applications in such fields as precision measurement and nanotechnology," according to the citation by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Nanotechnology promises to open up the possibilities of computers that rival the brain in processing, communications and storage, to molecular motors, cellular machines and drugs that target specific cells. Scientists expect it to eventually lead to new materials that are stronger, lighter and cheaper to make, and it's likely to touch nearly every industry: power, biotech, computing and manufacturing.

The Nobel awards started Monday with the naming of three physiology or medicine prize winners. American researcher Leland Hartwell and British researchers Tim Hunt and Paul Nurse were cited for work on cell development that helps researchers understand how cancer grows and that could lead to new treatments.

This year -- during the Nobel centennial -- the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences broke with tradition and announced only the physics prize winner on Tuesday. In past years it had included the chemistry winner on the same day.

"It has been felt in the academy over a couple of years that in the afternoon when the chemistry was announced, the interest was not as great as it was in the morning when everyone was fresh," said Erling Norrby, head of the academy, explaining the change. The chemistry prize will be awarded Wednesday, together with the economics prize. The literature award will be announced Thursday, and the peace prize -- the only one not awarded in Sweden -- will be announced Friday in Oslo, Norway.

Alfred Nobel, the wealthy Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite who endowed the physics, chemistry, literature, medicine and peace prizes, left vague guidelines for the selection committees. In his will, he said the prizes should be given to those who "shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind" and "shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics." The economics prize was established and endowed by the Swedish central bank in 1968 and first awarded in 1969.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which also chooses the chemistry and economics winners, invited nominations from previous recipients and experts in the fields before whittling down its choices. Deliberations are conducted in strict privacy. The prizes are always presented on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896.