The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded Tuesday to Frenchman Alain Aspect , American John Clauser and Austrian Anton Zeilinger , three pioneers of the revolutionary mechanisms of quantum physics.
The trio of septuagenarians were honored for their discoveries of “quantum entanglement,” a mechanism in which two quantum particles are perfectly correlated, regardless of the distance between them , the jury announced in a statement.
The discovery of this amazing property paved the way for new ultra-secure quantum computing and communications technologies, as well as ultra-sensitive quantum sensors that would enable extremely precise measurements, such as gravity in space.
This puzzling mechanics was predicted by quantum theory. However, even Albert Einstein did not believe it: two particles united from the beginning – as twins could be – can retain the mark of their common past and behave similarly at a distance.
Each of the laureates “performed innovative experiments using entangled quantum states, in which two particles behave as a unit even when separated,” the jury noted.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that a new type of quantum technology is emerging,” Anders Irback, chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics, said in a statement.
Clauser, a 79-year-old California-based research physicist, and Aspect, a 75-year-old professor at Paris-Saclay University, were recognized for their advances on the work of John Stewart Bell, who in the 1960s “developed the inequality mathematician known by his name”.
Zeilinger, a 77-year-old professor of physics at the University of Vienna, said he did not expect to be awarded.
“I was very surprised to get the call,” Zeilinger told a news conference in Stockholm by phone.
The Austrian scientist was recognized for his work with “quantum teleportation, which makes it possible to move a quantum state from one particle to another over a distance,” the jury noted.
“It’s not like the Star Trek movies or something,” Zeilinger clarified. “The point is, using entanglement you can transfer all the information carried by an object to another site where the object is reconstituted.”
Quantum mechanics is a counterintuitive science that describes the world on an extremely small scale, where things can simultaneously exist, not exist, and be somewhere in between.
Tech giants like Google are mobilizing a large number of researchers to shape the next generation of so-called “quantum computers” , whose computing power should allow them to solve problems that would otherwise be impossible to solve.
The three, who will share the prize of 10 million Swedish kronor ($901,500), will receive the award from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of the scientist Alfred Nobel, who he created the awards in his will.
Last year, the academy awarded Japanese American Syukuro Manabe and German Klaus Hasselmann for their research on climate models, while Italian Giorgio Parisi also won for his work on the interaction of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems.
Only four women have won the Nobel Prize in Physics, instituted in 1901: Marie Curie (1903), Maria Goeppert Mayer (1963), Donna Strickland (2018), and Andrea Ghez (2020).
“That reflects the unfair conditions in society, especially in the past years, but which still exist,” Goran Hansson, secretary general of the Swedish Academy of Sciences, told AFP last year.
The Nobel season will continue on Wednesday with the announcement of the Chemistry prize, followed by the most anticipated Literature prize on Thursday and the Peace prize on Friday.