Lene Vestergaard Hau is a Danish professor of physics and applied physics at Harvard University. She has also taught Energy Science at Harvard, the study of nuclear power, batteries, photosynthesis, and photovoltaic cells. Hau was awarded her bachelor’s degree in mathematics, a master’s degree in physics, and her PhD from Aarhus University, the largest research university in Denmark. For her doctoral studies Hau worked in quantum theory. Specifically her studies involved strings of atoms in a silicon crystal carrying electrons. She spent seven months at CERN for this research.
In 1991 Hau became a scientific staff member at the Rowland Institute for Science at Cambridge, Massachusetts. There she researched slow light and cold atoms. In 1999 Hau became a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University. Formally, she is trained as a theoretical physicists, but her experimental research was concerned with creating a fifth state of matter, known as a Bose-Einstein Condensate. During this time Hau applied to the National Science Foundation for funds to make a batch of this condensate but her grant was rejected because the NSF labelled her just a theorist for whom those experiments would be too difficult to conduct. Hau found alternative funding.
In 1999 she led a Harvard research team who successfully slowed a beam of light to 17 meters per second using a Bose-Einstein Condensate. Einstein’s theory of special relativity sets the speed of light at about 300 million meters per second. In 2001 she became the first person to successfully stop a beam of light completely.
In 2006 her experimental efforts with Bose-Einstein Condensates led to the transfer of a quantum bit of light to a matter wave, and from matter back into light, a groundbreaking accomplishment in the fields of quantum computing and quantum encryption. According to quantum mechanics, matter can behave as waves as well as particles. This enables atoms to effectively be two places at once. Light pulses in Bose-Einstein Condensates are compressed to a factor of about 50 million before losing any stored information. Before the discoveries of Hau and her colleagues, optical information could not be controlled during its journey, its signal was just boosted to avoid fading. The entire metric of light storage went from milliseconds to fractional seconds due to her research. The developmental applications of her research in the field of quantum computing is encouraging. Now people who make quantum computers can share quantum information in light form and two atom forms.
Outside of her research, Lene Hau is a celebrated speaker at international conferences, and helps structure science policies at various institutions.