Thursday, 11 October 2012 12:48
October 11, 2012
Two scientists, one of whom who once described his engineering research on single photons and charged atoms as a "parlor trick," have been awarded the Nobel prize in physics. As an added bonus, David Wineland and Serge Haroche will also get to share $1.2 million for their individual work, considered by some as a revolutionary path towards the future of desktop computing.
According to the BBC, the study of quantum optics by Wineland and Haroche could have far-reaching implications for communications and computation. The two researchers have spent years working with light and matter on a microscopic level, moving away from scientific theory and establishing the idea of quantum mechanics into a solid experimental base.
"Single particles are not easily isolated from their surrounding environment, and they lose their mysterious quantum properties as soon as they interact with the outside world," said the Nobel committee. "Through their ingenious laboratory methods Haroche and Wineland, together with their research groups, have managed to measure and control very fragile quantum states, which were previously thought inaccessible for direct observation. The new methods allow them to examine, control and count the particles."
The latest recipients of the Nobel prize may come from two different sides of the Atlantic but their ideas have drawn praise from peers who appreciate that what Wineland, American, and Haroche, French, have done is worthy of scientific recognition. In laymans terms, the research has developed a way to manipulate photons and ions on an individual basis, giving the scientists the chance to work with objects that seemed to be in two places at once.
"The Nobel laureates have opened the door to a new era of experimentation with quantum physics by demonstrating the direct observation of individual quantum particles without destroying them," said the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awarded them the prize and the money. "Perhaps the quantum computer will change our everyday lives in this century in the same radical way as the classical computer did in the last century."
Groundbreaking engineering research
Without succumbing to hyperbole, some members of the scientific community believe that Wineland and Haroche have opened a door in quantum mechanics that was previously the realm of science fiction writers. Business systems across the world currently rely on atomic clocks but this experimental research, described as "groundbreaking" by the panel that awarded the prize, could see these replaced by far more precise instruments, while quantum computers, that investigate every possible scenario at the exact same moment, could become a reality.
According to Reuters, both scientists were shocked to receive the award. Haroche was walking along a French street when he received a phone call to tell him that he had won, while Wineland, who was asleep at his home in Colorado, was told by his wife who took the early-morning call from Stockholm.
"First I called my children, then I called my closest colleagues, without whom I would never have won this prize," said Haroche. "I hope the prize will give me a platform that will allow me to communicate ideas, not just in this field of research but for research in general, fundamental research".
Wineland, who his research colleagues have described as a "realist," has dedicated his time to experimentation in quantum mechanics by perfecting the parlor trick that led to the Nobel prize, while keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
"You can find debate on this, but I'm not sure we're so special in the universe," he said, and he is optimistic that his work might advance similar research, but he "wouldn't recommend anybody buy stock in a quantum computing company."
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