Sleuths of ‘spooky’ quantum science win Nobel physics prize

* The winners paved the way to powerful new quantum technologies
* Findings enabled work on quantum computing, encryption
* The research of the winners is based on “startling” insights
* Zeilinger was “shocked but very positive” when he heard the news
* Scientists shed light on the behavior of subatomic particles

Scientists Alain Aspect, John Clauser and Anton Zeilinger received the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics for experiments in quantum mechanics that laid the foundation for the rapidly developing new applications in computer science and cryptography.
“Their results have paved the way for new technologies based on quantum information,” said the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences of the award winners – Frenchman Aspect, American Clauser and Austrian Zeilinger.
The scientists all conducted experiments on quantum entanglement, in which two particles are connected regardless of the distance between them, a field that unsettled Albert Einstein himself, who once wrote in a letter describing it as “spooky action at a distance”.
“I’m very fortunate … I first began this work in 1969 and am glad to be alive to receive the award,” Clauser, 79, told Reuters by phone from his home in Walnut Creek, California.
Clauser, who worked at institutions like Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley during his career, said he’s seen his initial work morph into much larger experiments.
China’s Micius satellite, part of a quantum physics research project, is partly built on his findings, he said.
“The configuration of the satellite and the ground station is almost identical to my original experiment. Mine was about 30 feet long, hers is thousands of kilometers for quantum communications.”
When asked to explain his work in lay language, he joked that he didn’t understand it himself, but added that the interactions described permeate almost everything.
“Probably every particle in the universe is entangled with every other particle,” Clauser said with a chuckle.
French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted his congratulations to the winners, adding: “Einstein himself did not believe in quantum entanglement! Today, the promises of quantum computing are based on this phenomenon.”
Aspect, a professor at Universite Paris-Saclay and Ecole Polytechnique, Palaiseau, near Paris, said he was glad that his work helped lighten the debate between Einstein, who was skeptical about quantum physics, and Niels Bohr, one of the fathers of the field. Both received Nobel Prizes in Physics.
“Quantum physics, a fantastic field that’s been on the agenda for more than a century, still has many mysteries to uncover,” Aspect, 75, told reporters.
“This award today anticipates what quantum technologies will one day be like.”
Zeilinger, 77, a professor emeritus at the University of Vienna, told a telephone press conference after receiving the news that he was “shocked but very positive”.
In an interview after being awarded the honorary doctorate earlier this year, Zeilinger said that protected quantum communication over potentially thousands of kilometers via cable or satellite was soon a possibility.
“It’s pretty clear that in the near future we’re going to have global quantum communications,” he said at the time.
Quantum physics is the study of matter and energy at the subatomic level, involving the smallest building blocks of nature, a field governed by laws that differ from those of classical Newtonian physics used in areas such as the motions of celestial bodies .
In background material explaining the award, the Academy said the laureates’ work includes “the startling insight that quantum mechanics makes it possible to partition a single quantum system into parts that are separate from each other, but still function as a single entity. “
“This goes against all usual notions of cause and effect and the nature of reality.”
In groundbreaking experiments, the award winners studied how two or more photons, or light particles, that are “entangled” because they come from the same laser beam, interact even when they are far apart.
Sean Carroll, a professor of natural philosophy at Johns Hopkins University and author of books on topics including quantum mechanics, told Reuters the award for the trio is long overdue.
“Although the … experimental techniques these people have developed may not be directly applicable, they lay the foundations for exploiting quantum entanglement as a technological resource,” he said.
The prize, worth 10 million Swedish kroner (US$902,315), is more than a hundred years old and is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Physics is the second Nobel Prize to be awarded this week after Swedish geneticist Svante Paabo won the Physiology or Medicine prize on Monday.
The Physics Prize has often been the focus of awards, with well-known names in science such as Einstein, Bohr and Max Planck and rewarding breakthroughs that have changed the way we see the world.

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