Nobel physics prize awarded for quantum particle work

Groundbreaking work in quantum optics has netted France’s Serge Haroche and American David Wineland this year’s Nobel physics prize.

Independently, the two found ways to measure and manipulate individual particles while preserving their quantum-mechanical nature – in ways that were previously thought impossible.

Single particles aren’t easily isolated from their surrounding environment, and lose their mysterious quantum properties as soon as they interact with the outside world. This means that many phenomena predicted by quantum physics couldn’t be directly observed, leaving scientists stuck with thought experiments only.

But the pair’s techniques mean that the quantum mechanical states can be preserved and observed – including entanglement and decoherence.

The pair have taken similar approaches, with David Wineland trapping electrically charged atoms, or ions, controlling and measuring them with photons – while Serge Haroche does the opposite, controlling and measuring trapped photons by sending atoms through a trap.

“Both Laureates work in the field of quantum optics studying the fundamental interaction between light and matter, a field which has seen considerable progress since the mid-1980s. Their ground-breaking methods have enabled this field of research to take the very first steps towards building a new type of super fast computer based on quantum physics,” says the prize committee.

“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.”