Obama names Stanford physicist Benjamin Lev for honor

Benjamin Lev, who studies the behavior of quantum matter, will attend an Oct. 14 awards ceremony in Washington D.C. for early-career scientists.

President Obama on Monday named Benjamin Lev, an assistant professor in applied physics at Stanford, as a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. It is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their research careers.

Lev will be among the 94 researchers to be honored by Obama at an Oct. 14 ceremony at the White House. Those awarded were selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology, and their commitment to community service.

The awards are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the executive office of the president. Sixteen federal departments and agencies join together to nominate the most promising scientists and engineers.

Lev received the National Science Foundation Career Award in 2008. The new honor follows his significant breakthroughs in physics.

Last year, Lev also received an $875,000 Packard Fellowship for his work.

He said his work attempts to understand the behavior of quantum matter.

"I want to create new forms of quantum matter and study their properties in novel ways," he said. "This can then lead to better intuition about how materials such as high temperature superconductors behave."

To create these new forms of matter, Lev and his group of researchers used lasers to cool an exotic gas made of highly magnetic dysprosium atoms.

"It was long thought impossible to cool them with lasers, but we found a way do that," Lev said. They eventually chilled the atoms to "a billionth of a degree above absolute zero – one of the coldest objects in the universe."

Lev and his group also created a "first-one-of-its-kind" quantum matter wave of these dysprosium atoms – another feat that was considered impossible before the breakthrough.

The implications of his research are powerful: "It could revolutionize the power grid or lead to quantum computers, but that’s all very far-off at this point," he said.

Lev received his PhD in physics from the California Institute of Technology in 2005, and joined the Stanford faculty earlier this month from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Benjamin Lev, Physics: (626) 676-5529, benlev [a] stanford (p) edu

Cynthia Haven, Stanford News Service: (650) 724-6184, cynthia.haven [a] stanford (p) edu

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