Lene V. Hau

Lene V. Hau

  • Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and of Applied Physics


In Hau’s laboratory, light has been slowed 100 million fold to speeds of only 10 miles/hour. Light pulses can be stopped and extinguished in one part of space and then revived at a completely different location. In the process light is converted to matter and back. The matter copy of the light pulse can be grabbed, moved around, reshaped, and turned back into light. In the most recent experiments, the matter copy was stored away for 1.5 seconds. This is long enough for light to go from Earth to the Moon!

The condensates are formed in an ultrahigh vacuum system constructed for easy access to and manipulation of cold atom clouds using light probes and nano-mechanical structures. Professor Hau's group recently reduced the light speed to 17 meters per second (the speed of a racing bicycle) - and ultimately completely stopped a light pulse - by optically inducing a quantum interference in a Bose–Einstein condensate.

Ultraslow and stopped light is obtained by creating a new and unique optical medium: an entangled system of photons and atoms that exhibits extreme optical properties. Hau's group has demonstrated a nonlinear refractive index that is 14 orders of magnitude larger that in an optical fiber and, by a factor of a million, the largest ever measured. This work opened a new territory of nonlinear optics at extremely low light levels.

Interesting potential applications of the large nonlinearities include creation of optical switches that will work at the single-photon level, dynamically programmable optical delay lines, and controlled optical information storage and processing. A practical system might be based on atom cooling by diode lasers and micro-traps, a possibility related to another of Professor Hau's interests: atomic wave guides for cold atoms.

Hau and her collaborators were the first to suggest a wave-guide for cold atoms based on a mechanical structure. This "Kapitza guide" involves dynamical stabilization of atom motion around a metallic wire with time-varying electric potentials; it is the atomic-matter wave analogue of the optical fibers used as guiding structures for light.

Hau was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on April 20, 2009; was honored with Harvard University's prestigious Ledlie Prize in September 2008; and was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on January 16, 2008.

In addition, she was selected by the MacArthur Foundation as one of only 9 MacArthur Fellows to be featured in connection with the 25th anniversary of the MacArthur Fellows program. The Library of Congress has recognized Lene Hau in its "Women Who Dare" 2007 desk calendar of accomplished women from around the world and throughout history.

Contact Information

Office:229 Lyman
Office Phone:(617) 496-5967
Lab Location:112-114 and 211-214 Cruft Hall
Assistant:Jane C. Salant
Assistant Office:Cruft 210
Assistant Phone:(617) 496-8119

Primary Teaching Area

Positions & Employment

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences/Harvard Department of Physics

  • Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and of Applied Physics

Other Experience & Professional Membership

  • Member, National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellow, 2010
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2009
  • Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2009
  • Fellow, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2008


  • World Dane, 2010
  • Ledlie Prize, 2008
  • MacArthur Fellow, 2005
  • Richtmyer Award, American Association of Physics Teachers, 2004