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Physics Nobel shared for quantum optics research

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Physics Nobel shared for quantum optics research
11:52 CEST+02:00
The 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics has been awarded to Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland for their "groundbreaking" experimentation in quantum optics.

"Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland have independently invented and developed methods for measuring and manipulating individual particles while preserving their quantum-mechanical nature, in ways that were previously thought unattainable," Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement.

The Academy cited the pair's "ingenious laboratory methods" which allowed them to measure fragile quantum states previously thought to be impossible to observe.

According to the Academy, their work "opened the door to a new era of experimentation with quantum physics by demonstrating the direct observation of individual quantum systems without destroying them".

Speaking via telephone from France, Haroche said the Nobel win was "fantastic".

"The first thing I did was call my children," he said.

He then notified colleagues, added that he planned to celebrate with Champagne.

The innovations pioneered by Haroche and Wineland allow the particles to be examined, controlled, and counted in ways never before thought possible.

While Wineland traps electrically charged atoms, or ions, and then uses light, or photons, to control and measure them, Haroche takes the opposite approach by first measuring trapped photons, or particles of light, by sending atoms through a trap.

Practical applications for the work of Haroche and Wineland include the construction of super-precise ion clocks.

Many also hope their research will lead to super-fast quantum computers.

While still only a theoretical possibility at this point, should quantum computers be built, as the Nobel Laureates' work suggests is possible, it would launch a new computing revolution that would "change our lives in the same radical way as the classical computer transformed life in the last century".

When asked how the discoveries affect people's daily lives, Anne L'Huillier, atomic physicist and member of the Nobel Committee for physics, explained that the Laureates' work so far has been applied to "basic science", but pointed toward the ion clock as one aspect which can affect people's lives directly.

“The part of the discovery which is closest to affecting our daily life is actually the optical ion clock. This will change our time standard from the cesium clock to an ion clock and this will happen very, very soon,” she told The Local.

L'Huillier said that ion clocks would likely be built within two years.

“It will change our standard for determining time,” she added.

Haroche, of the Collège de France and Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France, is a French citizen born 1944 in Morocco and received his PhD in 1971 from Université Pierre et Marie Curie.

In 2009, he received France' highest scientific honour, the CNRS Gold Medal.

Wineland works at National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the United States and at the University of Colorado Boulder. He was also born in 1944, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and received his PhD from Harvard University in 1971.

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