DOE Physicists at Work - Zheng-Tian Lu
DOE Physicists at Work
Profiles of representative DOE-sponsored physicists
doing research at universities and national laboratories
Compiled by the Office of Scientific and Technical Information
Joy - that's an often heard word when Zheng-Tian Lu talks about physics. "I always enjoy learning simple, elegant ways of nature," said Dr. Lu, a staff physicist in the Physics Division of Argonne National Laboratory, and a part-time professor in both the Enrico Fermi Institute and the Physics Department of the University of Chicago. "In physics I find plenty of such joy. Every so often, I learn a great idea or a discovery while attending a lecture, reading a paper, or talking to colleagues. I have also had the opportunity to experience such joy through my own work in the labs."
Dr. Lu first became interested in math and physics while in junior high school, in Hangzhou, China. "I found that I was good at doing the class work and was drawn to these subjects," says Dr. Lu. "In college I deliberately explored several other majors and decided in the end that physics was what I enjoyed the best."
Dr. Lu received a B.A. in physical chemistry from the University of Science and Technology of China in 1987. Through the assistance of the China-U.S. Physics Examination and Application (CUSPEA) program, Dr. Lu came to the U.S. to study physics in graduate school. He received an M.A. from the University of Chicago in 1991, and a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1994. Prior to joining Argonne, he was a post-doc at JILA Institute of the University of Colorado from 1994 to 1997. He has been a member of the American Physical Society since 1988, and is currently serving on the Society's Committee on Membership.
Throughout his career, Lu and his colleagues have been developing novel techniques of laser manipulation and laser spectroscopy of atoms, and applying these techniques to ultra-sensitive trace analysis, studying nuclear structure, and testing fundamental symmetries.
"My colleagues and I develop new and improved existing methods of controlling atoms, and use these methods to explore scientific problems in the realm of physics and beyond," said Dr. Lu.
In the field of radio-krypton dating, Lu's group developed a new method named Atom Trap Trace Analysis (ATTA) to analyze krypton-81 (81Kr) in environmental samples. 81Kr is the ideal tracer for dating ice and groundwater in the age range of 100 thousand to 1 million years. In this method, individual 81Kr atoms are selectively captured and detected with a laser-based atom trap.
"As the first real-world application of ATTA, we have determined the mean residence time of the old groundwater in the Nubian Aquifer located underneath the Sahara Desert," said Lu. "We will continue to improve the ATTA method and expand its applications in Earth sciences and nuclear non-proliferation."
For the development of the Atom Trap Trace Analysis method, Dr. Lu received both the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and the DOE Office of Science Early Career Scientist and Engineer Award in 2000.
Lu is married to Diyang. They have two children: Peter, 11 years old, and Albert, 4 years old. They live in Lisle, IL, in the western suburb of Chicago.
Dr. Lu's home page
Dr. Lu's articles accessed via OSTI: