According to the committee, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three scientists who “opened doors to another world”.
The three have all been recognized for their work on quantum entanglement, a “crazy” area that was once a source of philosophical musing and is developing into promising real-world applications such as B. secure encryption of information.
A member of the committee, Eva Olson, said the award recognizes both the far-reaching impact of her work and the profound philosophical changes it has brought about.
“It has far-reaching and potential implications for areas such as secure information transmission, quantum computing and sensor technology.”
“Its origin can be traced back to that of quantum mechanics,” she said.
“Its predictions opened doors to another world, and it also shook the foundations of our interpretation of measurements.”
Frenchman Alain Aspect, American John F. Clauser, and Austrian Anton Zeilinger have been cited by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for discovering how invisible particles like photons can be connected, or “entangled,” even when they are separated by great distances.
It all goes back to a feature of the universe that baffled even Albert Einstein, linking matter and light in intricate, chaotic ways.
Information or matter that used to be juxtaposed, although now separate, has a connection or relationship – something that can potentially help scramble or even teleport information. A Chinese satellite is now demonstrating this, and potentially lightning-fast quantum computers, still in the small and not quite usable stages, also rely on this entanglement. Others even hope to use it in superconducting material.
“It’s so strange,” Aspect said of becoming involved in a phone conversation with the Nobel Committee. “I accept something completely insane in my mental images.”
But the trio’s experiments showed that it happens in real life.
“Why that’s happening, I don’t know,” Clauser told The Associated Press during a Zoom interview, during which he received the Swedish Academy’s official call several hours after friends and the media informed him of his award. “I have no understanding of how it works, but the entanglement seems very real.”
His fellow winners also said they can’t explain the how and why behind this effect. But each conducted more and more complicated experiments proving that they are just.
Clauser, 79, received his award for a 1972 experiment cobbled together with looted equipment that helped settle a famous quantum mechanics debate between Einstein and famed physicist Niels Bohr. Einstein described “a spooky action at a distance” that he thought would eventually be disproved.
“I bet on Einstein,” Clauser said. “But unfortunately I was wrong and Einstein was wrong and Bohr was right.”
Aspect said Einstein may have been technically wrong but deserves credit for asking the right question that led to experiments proving quantum entanglement. “Most people would assume that nature is made up of things spread out across space and time,” said Clauser, who built a video game on a vacuum tube computer as a high school student in the 1950s. “And that doesn’t seem to be the case.” What the work shows is that “parts of the universe — even those far apart — are interconnected,” said Johns Hopkins physicist N. Peter Armitage. “It’s something so unintuitive and something so at odds with how we think the world ‘should’ be.” This elusive field began with thought experiments. But what are in some ways philosophical thoughts about the universe also hold hope for safer and faster computers, all based on entangled photons and matter that still interact no matter how far away they are. “During my first experiments, I was sometimes asked by the press what they were good for,” Zeilinger, 77, told reporters in Vienna. “And I said with pride, ‘It’s no good. I’m doing this out of curiosity.” With quantum entanglement, establishing shared information between two photons that aren’t close together allows us “to do things like secret communications in a way that wasn’t possible before,” said David Haviland, chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics. Quantum information “has broad and potential implications for areas such as secure information transmission, quantum computing and sensor technology,” said Eva Olsson, a member of the Nobel committee. “Its predictions opened doors to another world, and it also shook the foundations of our interpretation of measurements.”
The type of secure communications used by China’s Micius satellites – as well as some banks – is a “success story of quantum entanglement,” said Harun Siljak of Trinity College Dublin. Using an entangled particle to create an encryption key ensures that only the person with the other entangled particle can decrypt the message and “the secret these two sides share is a real secret,” Siljak said.
While quantum entanglement is “incredibly cool,” security technologist Bruce Schneier, who teaches at Harvard, said it strengthens an already secure part of information technology where other areas, including human factors and software, are more of a problem. He likened it to installing a side door with 25 locks on an otherwise unsafe home.
At a press conference, Aspect said real-world applications like the satellite were “fantastic.”
“I think we’ve made strides towards quantum computing. I wouldn’t say we’re close,” said the 75-year-old physicist. “I don’t know if I’ll see it in my life. But I’m an old man.”
Zeilinger, who is based at the University of Vienna, said by telephone at a press conference after the announcement that he was “still kind of shocked” when he heard that he had received the award.
Clauser, Aspect and Zeilinger have been the subject of Nobel speculation for more than a decade. In 2010 they won the Wolf Prize in Israel, which is considered a possible precursor to the Nobel Prize.
The Nobel Committee said Clauser developed quantum theories that were first put into practical experimentation in the 1960s. Aspect was able to fill a gap in these theories, while Zeilinger demonstrated a phenomenon called quantum teleportation, which allows information to be transmitted effectively across distances.
“Through entanglement, you can transfer all the information that an object carries to another location, where the object is reconstituted, so to speak,” says Zeilinger. He added that this only works for tiny particles.
“It’s not like in the Star Trek movies (where you are), transporting something, certainly not the person, over a certain distance,” he said.
A week of Nobel Prize announcements began Monday with Swedish scientist Svante Paabo receiving the Medicine Prize on Monday for unlocking the mysteries of Neanderthal DNA, which provided important insights into our immune system.
Chemistry is on Wednesday and literature on Thursday. The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday and the Economics Prize on October 10th.
The prizes are worth 10 million Swedish kronor (almost US$900,000) and will be presented on December 10th. The money comes from a legacy from the prize’s creator, Swedish dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.
Additional reporting by agencies