In Memoriam: Debbie Jin

Deborah Shiu-lan Jin (15th November 1968 – 15th September 2016)


EGAS 2017 concludes with a mini-symposium on dipolar quantum matter, dedicated to the memory of Debbie Jin. Debbie Jin was an exceptionally accomplished and creative experimental physicist. She received her PhD from the University of Chicago in 1995, with the thesis “Experimental Study of Phase Diagrams of Heavy Fermion Superconductors with Multiple Transitions.” Switching to AMO physics for her postdoctoral work, she made key contributions to the early work on atomic Bose-Einstein condensates conducted at JILA (University of Colorado and National Institute of Standards and Technology), before forming her own group at JILA in 1997. Hearkening back to her earlier work in condensed matter physics, she led the production of the first quantum degenerate gas of fermionic atoms in 1999, and the first condensation of pairs of fermionic atoms in 2003, directly observing the continuous transition from a BCS state to a BEC of molecules. She subsequently teamed up with her JILA colleague Jun Ye in a notably successful collaboration to produce large-dipole-moment ultracold diatomic molecules, opening up a huge field for exploration.

Debbie was rightly recognised for these remarkable achievements during her all too short lifetime by numerous awards and prizes, yet what came across when interacting with her were her down to earth accessibility, and her generosity, particularly in supporting young researchers (as a JILA postdoc, when quite reasonably confirming that she thought a presentation I’d given was opaque and overburdened with equations, this was still done in the nicest possible way!). Debbie’s approach to research was inclusive and collaborative, and balanced with the importance she placed on family life; her husband John Bohn was himself a frequent theoretical collaborator, and their daughter Jackie was a common sight on the conference circuit. Debbie showed little interest in presenting her experiments as some form of titanic struggle against nature (although they were frequently technically quite demanding) — if, for example, loss rates were higher than might have been hoped for, they could still be used to gain useful insights about the system under study.

Debbie Jin will continue to be missed for many, many reasons, and it is therefore very pleasing that the American Physical Society’s DAMOP thesis prize has been renamed as the Deborah Jin Award for Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Research in Atomic, Molecular, or Optical Physics — which seems a fitting, final honour.

See also “Deborah S. Jin 1968–2016: Trailblazer of ultracold science”.

Written by Professor Simon Gardiner, JQC Durham