I was born in Pasadena, California in 1951 and grew up in Maryland, just outside of Washington, D. C. I graduated from Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland in 1969. I received a B.S. from Yale in 1973 and a Ph.D. in experimental physics from Harvard in 1979. Since then, I have been a physicist in the Ion Storage Group of the Time and Frequency Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado.
I work on the development of new time standards (clocks) based on laser-cooled, stored atomic ions. For a nontechnical introduction to this topic, read the article "Accurate Measurement of Time" in the July 1993 issue of Scientific American. I coauthored this article with my Ph.D. advisor, Prof. Norman Ramsey, who shared the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physics with W. Paul and H. Dehmelt.
Among time-and-frequency specialists, I am perhaps best known for calculating the effect that the blackbody (thermal) electromagnetic field has on the rate of cesium atomic clocks. [W.M. Itano, L.L. Lewis, and D.J. Wineland, Physical Review A, vol. 25, pp. 1233-1235 (1982).] Now that the international timekeeping community has accepted this calculation, a second isn't as long as it used to be. You're not likely to notice though, since the change amounts to only about half a microsecond in a year.
Among physicists, my name is associated, for better or for worse, with the experimental demonstration of the "quantum Zeno effect" [W.M. Itano, D.J. Heinzen, J.J. Bollinger, and D.J. Wineland, Physical Review A, vol. 41, pp. 2295-2300 (1990).] This experiment has proven to be more controversial than I expected. I consider it a good example of the workings of quantum mechanics, and, in fact, it is starting to find its way into textbooks.
I am a member of the Executive Committee of the Division of Laser Science of the American Physical Society. I recently served a term as an Associate Editor of Optics Express, an all-electronic peer-reviewed journal of the Optical Society of America. From 1990 to 1993 I was the Secretary-Treasurer of the Laser Science Topical Group (now Laser Science Division) of the American Physical Society. From 1998 to 2001 I was the Secretary-Treasurer of the Precision Measurement and Fundamental Constants Topical Group of the American Physical Society.
In my spare time, I like to collect and study fossils. I am an active member of the Western Interior Paleontological Association and hold a Certification in Paleontology from the Denver Museum of Natural History (now called the Denver Museum of Nature and Science). I am the co-discoverer of a new species of fossil crinoid (a kind of marine invertebrate related to starfish and sea urchins). The article in which the species is formally described is "Synarmocrinus cobbani, a new crinoid from the Minturn Formation (midddle Pennsylvanian) of Colorado," by W. M. Itano and W. D. Bateman, Mountain Geologist, April 2001, vol. 38, p. 71-76
I am a member of the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Boulder, where I sometimes teach Sunday School. I am a member of the Colorado Yale Association, and served as a Colorado delegate to the Association of Yale Alumni from 1996 to 1999.
In 1983 I married Chris, who is now a professor at the University of Colorado. With Chris, I got an instant daughter, Nicole, who was 5 at the time and recently graduated from Yale. My second daughter, Michelle, followed a year later. She graduated from high school in June 2002 and will be attending Washington University in St. Louis.
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