Three scientists yesterday jointly won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on quantum information science that has significant applications, for example in the field of encryption.
Alain Aspect of France, John Clauser of the US and Anton Zeilinger of Austria were cited by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for discovering the way that particles known as photons can be linked, or “entangled,” with each other even when they are separated by large distances.
“Quantum information science is a vibrant and rapidly developing field,” Nobel Committee member Eva Olsson said. “It has broad and potential implications in areas such as secure information transfer, quantum computing and sensing technology.”
“Its origin can be traced to that of quantum mechanics,” she said. “Its predictions have opened doors to another world, and it has also shaken the very foundations of how we interpret measurements.”
Speaking by phone to a news conference after the announcement, Zeilinger said he was “still kind of shocked” at hearing he had received the award.
“But it’s a very positive shock,” said Zeilinger, 77, who is based at the University of Vienna.
Clauser, Aspect and Zeilinger have figured in Nobel speculation for more than a decade. In 2010, they won the Wolf Prize in Israel, seen as a possible precursor to the Nobel.
While physicists often tackle problems that appear at first glance to be far removed from everyday concerns — tiny particles and the vast mysteries of space and time — their research provides the foundations for many practical applications of science.
The Nobel Committee said Clauser, 79, developed quantum theories first put forward in the 1960s into to a practical experiment. Aspect, 75, was able to close a loophole in those theories, while Zeilinger demonstrated a phenomenon called quantum teleportation that effectively allows information to be transmitted over distances.
“Using entanglement you can transfer all the information which is carried by an object over to some other place where the object is, so to speak, reconstituted,” Zeilinger said, adding that this only works for tiny particles.
“It is not like in the Star Trek films [where one is] transporting something, certainly not the person, over some distance,” he said.
When he began his research, Zeilinger said the experiments were “completely philosophical without any possible use or application.”
Since then, the laureates’ work has been used to develop the fields of quantum computers, quantum networks and secure quantum encrypted communication.
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