Jun Ye, 34
National institute of Standards and Technology
Jun Ye is a laser Jedi, wielding beams so precise they are destined to become a nanotech force. The Shanghai-born physicist came to the United States for grad school in 1989,yearning for theoretical work. But the laser lab lured him, and he set about tightening the precision of its instruments—to brilliant effect. By 2001,Ye had produced a stream of photons with timing steadier than the oscillations of an atomic clock. Last year, he synchronized and phase-tracked two pulsating beams of different colors so closely that they melded into one coherent beam—a feat physicists had thought impossible. Ye’s phase-locked pulses can be shaped and shortened when different lasers are added to the mix. University of Colorado physicist Carl Wieman, whose atom-trapping laser tricks earned him a Nobel Prize last year, says Ye’s tunability gives nanotechnologists a new tool for simultaneously tweaking each bond in intricate molecules. Ye is now refining his tools to push the frontiers of a variety of fields. With pulses fast enough, Ye figures he can talk to an atom’s electrons.