2012 Nobel Prize in Physics for Measuring and Manipulating Individual Quantum Systems

October 9, 2012
nobelphysics2012

Left, Serge Haroche (credit: Collège de France). Right, David Wineland (credit: NIST/Wikimedia Commons)

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2012 to Serge Haroche, Collège de France and Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, France and David J. WinelandNational Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and University of Colorado Boulder, CO, USA ”for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems.”

Quantum mechanics, the study of how matter interacts with energy at the scale of atoms, has profoundly changed how scientists view the universe. On the quantum scale, matter and energy behave in ways that seem nonsensical and radically different from the world we ordinarily experience. Once exclusively in the realm of theory and thought experiments, quantum mechanics has emerged as the foundation of new scientific investigation, with intriguing possibilities for future technology and innovation.

This year’s laureates:

- Opened the door to experimentation and manipulation by studying individual quantum particles without destroying them;
- Measured and controlled quantum states, once beyond the reach of direct observation; and,
- Took the first steps toward harnessing quantum mechanics, which is already at work in highly accurate atomic clocks and may fulfill the promise of quantum computers that – rather than relying on zeros and ones – will use fuzzy quantum states to conduct calculations many times faster than the most powerful computers today.

“This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics shines light on two ground-breaking advances in quantum physics,” said Dr. H. Frederick Dylla, executive director and CEO, American Institute of Physics. “By measuring and manipulating both light and individual atoms, these researchers have opened the door for new investigations into the previously enigmatic and unwieldy world of quantum particles, where matter behaves in ways that are quite different from what we see in classical physics. We are beginning to harness the incredible power of quantum physics to advance technology, computers, timekeeping, cryptography, and many other innovations that have yet to be imagined.”