The Physics Nobel Prize was announced last night. It was awarded to Serge Haroche, of the College de France, and David Wineland, of the University of Colorado in Boulder.Their work into the quantum world — the bewildering physics of the tiny building blocks of matter — could lead to groundbreaking computer systems and super-precise light-based clocks.
Interestingly, the two researchers didn’t work together: They did their research independently. They will share the 8 million kronor prize (about 1.2 million dollars).
Their prizewinning work focused on measuring the quantum interactions between “packets” of light called photons and individual bits of electrically charged matter called ions in the lab. They were also able to manipulate the surprising physics of these systems, without destroying them.
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.
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