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10 October 2012

Quantum optics researchers win Physics Nobel / stem cell researchers win Medicine Nobel

BBC News (UK)
Tuesday 9 October 2012

Physics Nobel goes to
Serge Haroche & David Wineland

This year's Nobel prize in physics has been awarded to two researchers for their work with light and matter at the most fundamental level.

Serge Haroche of France and David Wineland of the US will share the prize, worth 8,000,000  Swedish kronor (= £750,000 = U$1,200,000).

Their "quantum optics" work deals with single photons and ions, the basic units of light and matter.

It could lead to advanced modes of communication and computation.

The Nobel citation said the award was for "ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems."

Light and matter, when the minuscule scales of single particles are reached, behave in surprising ways in a part of physics known as quantum mechanics.

Working with light and matter on this level would have been unthinkable before the pair developed solutions to pick, manipulate and measure photons and ions individually, allowing an insight into a microscopic world that was once just the province of scientific theory.


“I was lucky -- I was in the street and passing near a bench, so I was able to sit down immediately”

-- Serge Haroche



Their work has implications for light-based clocks far more precise than the atomic clocks at the heart of the world's business systems, and quantum computing, which may - or may not - revolutionise desktop computing as we know it.

But for physicists, the import of the pair's techniques is outlined in a layman's summary on the Nobel site: they preserve the delicate quantum mechanical states of the photons and ions - states that theorists had for decades hoped to measure in the laboratory, putting the ideas of quantum mechanics on a solid experimental footing.

Those include the slippery quantum mechanical ideas of "entanglement" - the seemingly ethereal connection between two distant particles that underpins much work on the "uncrackable codes" of quantum cryptography - and of "decoherence," in which the quantum nature of a particle slowly slips away through its interactions with other matter.

The prize is the second in quantum optics in recent years; the theory behind decoherence formed part of 2005's Nobel physics prize citation.


Prof Haroche was reached by phone from the press conference. He had been told he had won just 20 minutes before telling reporters: "I was lucky - I was in the street and passing near a bench, so I was able to sit down immediately.

Ion trap

Dr Wineland's work uses an "ion trap" in which charged particles are tested using light

"I was walking with my wife going back home and when I saw the... Swedish code, I realised it was real and it's, you know, really overwhelming."

Prof Sir Peter Knight of the UK's Institute of Physics, said: "Haroche and Wineland have made tremendous advances in our understanding of quantum entanglement, with beautiful experiments to show how atomic systems can be manipulated to exhibit the most extraordinary coherence properties."

The Nobel prizes have been given out annually since 1901, covering the fields of medicine, physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics.

Speculation had been rife, in light of the discovery of the Higgs boson announced in July, that Peter Higgs or his colleagues may have been in the running for the prize, but historically the prizes tend to honour discoveries after a period of years.

The first-ever Nobel prize in physics was awarded to Wilhelm Roentgen of Germany for his discovery of X-rays, and with this year's winners the total number of recipients has reached 194.

On Monday, the 2012 prize for medicine or physiology was awarded to John Gurdon from the UK and Shinya Yamanaka from Japan for changing adult cells into stem cells, which can become any other type of cell in the body.

This year's chemistry prize will be announced on Wednesday, with the literature and peace prizes to be awarded later in the week.

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1 comment:

PatfromCH said...

Depending on when Moore s Law will actually reach its limits (which will either be around 2017 at the earliest and sometime in the next decade) Quantum Computing might be The Next Big Thing.
Several teams around the world are currently doing massive research, amongst them IBM and a University in Australia. One of the problems they currently face isn getting current through atoms and as we know from quantum physics these buggers behave rather erratic.
It will be decades (30-50 years) before you will have a quantum-tech PC on your desktop and several experts claim this might never happen.
But it might work for supercomputers. Without any physical limitation for the data processing stuff like weather forecasting, climate models, proteine folding etc would be possible in near real time. Just think about the scientific possibilities.....And also think about the fact that whoever can write the software to run these machines properly will be stinking bloody rich like bloody Uncle Scrooge. Data Mining might get a whole new meaning.
At present it is unlikely that you or I will see this stuff happening, but my nephes, nices and godsons will witness this revolution. Finally some Nobel Prize stuph I can faintly understand.....