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Heather Lewandowski

Heather Lewandowski grew up in the small town of Laurium on the upper peninsula of Michigan, which extends into Lake Superior. She earned a B. S. in physics at nearby Michigan Tech in 1997.

That same year, she packed her bags and moved to Boulder to begin her graduate study in physics at the University of Colorado.Under the guidance of Fellow Eric Cornell, she began an investigation of cold Bose gases. Unexpectedly, she discovered that atoms in two different spin states were forming wavelike structures in the ultracold gases she was studying. Eventually, she figured out that what she was observing were coupled Bose-Einstein gases that over time would begin to oscillate. This work evolved into her thesis project.

Lewandowski also worked on another project during her graduate studies. This project she now fondly refers to as her “BEC in the Basement” paper. The paper described a relatively easy method for making a Bose-Einstein condensate, or BEC, in a laboratory. Many physicists used the recommendations to get their own BEC systems up and running.

After earning her Ph.D. in 2002, she won a prestigious National Research Council (NRC) postdoc from NIST and joined Fellow Jun Ye’s lab where she began using precision spectroscopy to investigate cooled, slowly moving OH molecules. They measured four key transitions in these molecules, with the goal of comparing the measurements with naturally occurring transitions in the same molecules observed in ancient galaxies. This comparison is expected to help scientists determine whether the fine structure constant has remained “constant” for the 13+ billion-year history of the Universe. Because the astrophysical data is just beginning to appear, the jury is still out on the success of this endeavor.

While she was waiting, in 2005 Lewandowski signed on as an Assistant Professor of physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU, Boulder) and an Associate Fellow of JILA. In 2012, she became a Fellow of JILA and Associate Professor of Physics at CU, Boulder. After putting together a new experimental physics laboratory, she  investigated collisions between cold ammonia (ND3) molecules and cold rubidium (Rb) atoms.Then she explored collisions between Rb atoms and NH molecules in collaboration with theorist Chris Greene.

In 2007, Lewandowski received an Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Award, was named an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, won an NSF Career Award, and received a University of Colorado Junior Faculty Development Award. She was awarded the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in STEM Education in 2010. 

Lewandowski is most widely known around Boulder as “Coach Lew.” She had played softball for many years when Cornell organized the JILA Monsters softball team in 2004 and needed a coach, so she volunteered. Their moment of greatest glory came in 2007 when the Monsters won their city league championship! The team is currently on hiatus.

 Lewandowski is married to Don Woodraska of CU’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. When they aren't conducting research, the two scientists work hard at perfecting traditional Belgian home brew.