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John Thomas

John S. Risley Distinguished Professor

Riddick Hall 245


Professor Thomas received his B. S. degree in Physics at MIT in 1973 and his Ph. D. in Physics at MIT in 1979.  At MIT, he was a Hertz Foundation predoctoral Fellow (1973-1978) and received a C. S. Draper Career Development Chair (Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1980-1981), before joining the Physics Department at Duke University in 1986. At Duke, he received a NIST Precision Measurements Grant (1990-1993) and was named the Fritz London Distinguished Professor in 2004.  In 2011, he moved his research group (JETlab) to North Carolina State University, where he is currently the John S. Risley Distinguished Professor of Physics.

Area(s) of Expertise

Dr. Thomas studies the physics of ultra-cold atomic gases. His group developed stable optical traps for atoms and all-optical cooling methods, leading to the first observation of a strongly interacting Fermi gas in 2002. Comprising an ultra-cold cloud of spin-up and spin down atoms, the so-called "unitary" strongly interacting Fermi gas models diverse systems in nature, including electron pairs in super high temperature superconductors, neutron matter in neutron stars, and the nearly perfect hydrodynamic expansion of a quark-gluon plasma, a state of matter that existed microseconds after the Big Bang. Current interests include interacting Fermi gases in confined geometries, quantum hydrodynamics,  optical control of interactions and spin-energy correlation and entanglement.


  • Fellow of the American Physical Society
  • Dasari Lecture MIT 2010
  • Jessie Beams Award for Research from SESAPS 2011
  • Outstanding Referee Award from the American Physical Society 2013
  • Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science 2018
  • Davisson-Germer Prize in Atomic or Surface Physics from APS 2018