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Nobel physics prize won by sleuths of ‘spooky’ quantum science

nobel prize in physics
Members of the Nobel Committee for Physics announce the winners of the 2022 award

Scientists Alain Aspect, John Clauser and Anton Zeilinger won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics for their advances in quantum mechanics on the behaviour of subatomic particles, opening the door to work on super computers and encrypted communication.

The awards were for given “experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science”, the award-giving body said on Tuesday.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the laureates – Aspect is French, Clauser American and Zeilinger Austrian — enabled further fundamental research and also potentially cleared the way for new practical technology.

The scientists all conducted experiments into quantum entanglement, where two particles are linked regardless of the space between them, a field that unsettled Albert Einstein himself, who once referred to it in a letter as “spooky action at a distance”.

“I’m still kind of shocked, but very positive,” Zeilinger told a press conference by phone after hearing the news.

He said in an interview this year after being awarded an honorary doctorate that protected quantum communication over potentially thousands of kilometres vie cables or satellite would soon be on the cards.

“It is quite clear that in the near future we will have quantum communication all over the world,” he said at the time.

In background material explaining the prize, the academy said the laureates’ work involves “the mind-boggling insight that quantum mechanics allows a single quantum system to be divided up into parts that are separated from each other but which still act as a single unit.”

“This goes against all the usual ideas about cause and effect and the nature of reality.”

ENCRYPTED COMMUNICATION

Sean M. Carroll, Professor of Natural Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University, told Reuters the prize for the trio was long overdue.

“Even though the actually experimental techniques that these folks pioneered might not directly applicable, they’re laying the ground work for using quantum entanglement as a technological resource,” he told Reuters.

The Academy said that as a result of their work, development was underway to use the “special properties of individual particle systems to construct quantum computers, improve measurements, build quantum networks and establish secure quantum encrypted communication.”

The laureates explored in ground-breaking experiments how two or more photons, or particles of light, that are “entangled” because they come from the same laser beam, interact even when they are separated far apart from each other.

Aspect is a Professor at Universite Paris-Saclay and École Polytechnique, Palaiseau, near Paris. Clauser worked at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the University of California, Berkeley, among other institutions during his career, while Anton Zeilinger is professor emeritus at the University of Vienna.

The more than century-old prize, worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($902,315), is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Physics is the second Nobel to be awarded this week after Swedish geneticist Svante Paabo won the prize for Physiology or Medicine on Monday.

The physics prize has often taken centre stage among the awards, featuring household names of science such as Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Pierre Curie and Marie Curie, and rewarding breakthroughs that have reshaped how we see the world.

Announced over consecutive weekdays in early October, the physics prize announcement will be followed by awards for chemistry, literature, peace and economics, the latter added in 1969 to the original line-up.

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